Slovakia’s steel hub Kosice dusts off its creative side

Updated 19 January 2013
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Slovakia’s steel hub Kosice dusts off its creative side

Known mainly for its steelworks, the gritty industrial hub of Kosice in east Slovakia is hard at work reforging itself as a center of creativity and the arts as it enters 2013 with the tag “European Capital of Culture.”
A two-day gala blastoff featuring fireworks and gigs by international and local artists this weekend launches a year of metamorphosis with an unprecedented flurry of festivals and events to showcase Slovak film, literature and music.
“We want to transform Kosice from a heavy industrialized city to one focusing on creative industries,” Culture Capital project director Jan Sudzina told AFP.
Awarded the European Union title “European Capital of Culture” for 2013 and a 60-million-euro ($80- million) grant, central Kosice is a hive of hammering and drilling amid preparations for the opening show and side-events.
Tourists to the city’s most famous landmark, the 14th century St. Elisabeth Cathedral, are met with a buzz of activity inside the usually solemn church, setting up for an exhibition this weekend by Paris visual artist Elize Morin, known for her three-dimensional creations with light.
St. Elisabeth is Slovakia’s largest church and Europe’s easternmost Gothic cathedral.
Tomas Cizmarik, a spokesman for the Kosice European Capital of Culture project, said plans for the city’s artistic renewal include “renovating old industrial objects such as former army barracks and giving them a new function” as concert halls and galleries.
The most ambitious project — the transformation of a derelict swimming pool closed for three decades into a gleaming center for contemporary art — is expected to conclude this spring.
On top of the EU grant, Kosice also received 10 million euros from the Slovak government.
Later this year, the city plans to honor its most famous native, Hungarian author Sandor Marai, by re-publishing his works — some for the first time in Slovak. “What (Franz) Kafka is for Prague, Marai is for Kosice,” goes the local saying.
March through April will see a marathon screening of films by Slovak director Juraj Jakubisko, and in May the “USE THE C!TY” festival will bring a variety of art forms to the city’s streets.
A modern art exhibition is planned from June through to September, followed in autumn by an international contemporary arts festival involving modern classical composers from across the globe.
The town’s efforts are starting to yield the desired effect.
Sudzina said a creative IT industry has started to take root, creating up to 6,000 jobs so far as the fastest developing sector.
Britain’s Guardian daily has named Kosice one of the best bargain city breaks of 2013, while US news giant CNN ranked the city replete with historical monuments this year’s third top travel destination.
Once a religious and cultural center of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Kosice’s modern history is inseparably linked to steel.
Established in the 1960s, the communist state-owned giant Eastern Slovak Steel Works (VSZ), was bought by the United States Steel Corporation in 2000, a decade after the regime collapsed.
The company provides more than 11,000 jobs and is the largest employer in this eurozone country of 5.4 million people.
With Kosice the city struggling with a 10-percent unemployment rate, spiking to 20 percent in the broader Kosice region, the company caused panic when it said last year it was contemplating quitting Slovakia and looking for a buyer for the steelworks.
“We hope the European Culture Capital project will boost small and medium-sized businesses and help overcome the region’s dependence on one company,” director Sudzina said.

As a former US Steel manager who left the steel business to launch an independent music recording company ten years ago, Sudzina believes the city will not only benefit from an influx of tourists, but that the project will inspire a greater feeling of community.

Locals seem to agree. Nikola Nevidova, a 22-year-old student, is optimistic the year will make its mark on her city.
“I believe Kosice will benefit a lot from this year as the European Culture Capital,” she told AFP gazing up at the soaring spires of St. Elisabeth Cathedral.
“I never realized how amazing the Cathedral is — sometimes when you see a treasure every day you tend to overlook its beauty,” she added.
The European Union has awarded the title European Capital of Culture every year since 1985, usually to two cities at a time.
The French port city of Marseille is Kosice’s twin beneficiary this year.


Ancient musical instruments get an airing in Athens

Updated 21 June 2018
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Ancient musical instruments get an airing in Athens

  • The phorminx, the kitharis, the krotala and the aulos — string and wind instruments reconstructed by musical group Lyravlos — echoed among marble statues in Athens’s National Archaeological Museum.
  • Music was an integral part of almost every aspect of ancient Greek society, from religious, to social to athletic events.

ATHENS: Hymns sung to the Greek gods thousands of years ago resonated from ancient musical instruments in Athens on Thursday, transporting a transfixed audience to antiquity.
The phorminx, the kitharis, the krotala and the aulos — string and wind instruments reconstructed by musical group Lyravlos — echoed among marble statues in Athens’s National Archaeological Museum as part of World Music Day celebrations.
A family of musicians, Lyravlos have recreated exact replicas of the ancient instruments from natural materials including animal shells, bones, hides and horns.
Music was an integral part of almost every aspect of ancient Greek society, from religious, to social to athletic events. Today only some 60 written scores of ancient Greek music have survived, said Lyravlos member Michael Stefos.
Stefos said they interpret them as best they can, relying on the accuracy of their recreated instruments.
“Joking aside, ancient CDs have never been found,” he said.
Their performance included a hymn to the god Apollo, pieces played at the musical festival of the ancient Pythian Games in Delphi and during wine-laden rituals to the god Dionysus.
Michael’s father Panayiotis Stefos, who heads the group, travels to museums at home and abroad studying ancient Greek antiquities and texts in order to recreate the instruments.
“Usually each instrument has a different sound. It is not something you can make on a computer, it will not be a carbon copy,” said Stefos.
The difference with modern day instruments?
“If someone holds it in their arms and starts playing, after a few minutes they don’t want to let it go, because it vibrates and pulsates with your body,” he said.
French tourist Helene Piaget, who watched the performance, said it was “inspiring.”
“One sees them on statues, on reliefs, and you can’t imagine what they might sound like,” she said.
World Music Day is an annual celebration that takes place on the summer solstice.