Muti conducts Syria musicians in memorial concert amid ruins

In this Jan. 1, 2018 file photo, Italian Maestro Riccardo Muti conducts the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra during the traditional New Year's concert at the golden hall of Vienna's Musikverein, Austria. Nine musicians from the Syrian diaspora in Europe are playing in the 24th friendship concert conducted by Riccardo Muti, this year at the Paestum archaeological site in southern Italy, but the coronavirus pandemic blocked others from arriving directly from Syria. (AP)
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Updated 05 July 2020

Muti conducts Syria musicians in memorial concert amid ruins

  • Nine Syrian musicians in Europe are playing in the 24th friendship concert conducted by Riccardo Muti

RAVENNA: Nine musicians from the Syrian diaspora in Europe are playing Sunday in the 24th friendship concert conducted by Riccardo Muti, this year at the Paestum archaeological site in southern Italy, but the coronavirus pandemic blocked others from arriving directly from Syria.
The concert Sunday by the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra founded by Muti, part of the Ravenna Festival summer series, is dedicated to Syrian archaeologist Khaled Al-Asaad and Kurdish-Syrian politician Hevreen Khalaf, both of whom were slain during Syria’s ongoing civil war.
“These concerts give to Ravenna the possibility to be an important ambassador of peace and brotherhood from Italy,” Muti told The Associated Press earlier this month in Ravenna. Khalaf was killed by Syrian fighters trained by Turkey 2019, and Al-Asaad was beheaded in 2015 by fighters of the Daesh group after he refused to aid their destruction of the ancient Roman city at Palmyra, a UN world heritage site.
Muti launched the Roads of Friendship concert series in 1997 in Sarajevo, shortly after Bosnia’s 1992-1995 civil war ended, and has since traveled to cities wounded by war, including Beirut, as well as in ancient and historic sites to “reestablish ties” with places that have made history, including the ancient Roman amphitheater in the southern Syrian city of Bosra.
“We can build bridges between civilizations, between people, with music,” said Karoun Baghboudarian, a cellist living in the Netherlands who is playing in Sunday’s concert and who sang in the chorus during the 2004 concert in Bosra — before Syria devolved into war, a period when she said musicians’ lives flourished.
Her brother, Missak Baghboudarian, conducts the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra and had hoped to travel to Italy to conduct a concert in Ravenna and attend the Paestum concert of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, known as the “Heroic,” but was unable to travel because of travel restrictions imposed by the coronavirus. Instead, the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra streamed Beethoven’s “Heroic” from Damascus on July 2.
Karoun Baghboudarian said she hoped the concert would renew attention on Syrians’ suffering.
“We hope that Syria will come through the war and all the difficult situations as heroes, and that they can live normally,” she said by phone from Paestum.


UK-based Arab film festival to go digital due to COVID-19 pandemic

Updated 13 August 2020

UK-based Arab film festival to go digital due to COVID-19 pandemic

  • ‘SAFAR From Home’ to feature films from Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, and Tunisia

LONDON: The SAFAR Film Festival, the only dedicated biennial pan-Arab film festival in the UK, is to take place digitally in September, the Arab British Centre has announced.

The changes come in the wake of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, which has forced multiple cultural events in the UK and elsewhere to be cancelled or postponed.

Scheduled to take place from Sept. 13-20, this year’s edition, titled “SAFAR From Home,” will be the fifth edition of the festival and will offer five free screenings, available to UK viewers, and five live events, available worldwide, featuring leading figures from the filmmaking industry across the Arab world.

The move to take the festival digital was funded in part by the Council of Arab Ambassadors and the British Film Institute’s COVID-19 Relief Fund.

Curated by Rabih El-Khoury, the festival will explore Arab cinema through the theme of journeys (‘Safar’ is the word for journey in Arabic).

It will feature films from Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, and Tunisia, with additional panel discussions on topics such as migration and life in the Arab diaspora.

On Sept. 20, the Arab British Centre will also host a panel of festival guests to discuss the growth of SAFAR since 2012 and the evolution of Arab cinema over the past eight years. 

El-Khoury said: “In a year when travel became impossible, we wanted to offer viewers the chance to travel to the Arab world and beyond through their screens at home. And while this program is an invitation to imaginary journeys, the truth around the protagonists of these films is far from being a fictitious one.

“They defy their harsh realities. They question bewildering surroundings. They face unconceivable challenges. They lead quite impossible journeys. Yet through courage, resilience, but also a lot of inspiration, they give a sense of meaning to their journeys,” he added.

Amani Hassan, the program director and also the acting executive director of the Arab British Centre, said: “We are very happy to announce the ‘SAFAR From Home’ initiative today. Following the difficult decision to postpone the in-person festival until 2021, we’re marking what would have been the landmark fifth edition with this alternative, virtual edition as a way to bring our audiences together and support the industry during this unprecedented time. 

“Since quickly pivoting our programs online in March, we’ve seen the thirst of people to connect with their culture, and with culture in general, and we hope that despite the physical distance, this program will offer SAFAR’s usual, unique space to appreciate, reflect upon, and celebrate the cinema and filmmakers of the Arab world.” 

The film and events program will be announced shortly alongside the festival’s new website. Information about the program can be found by emailing the organizers at www.safarfilmfestival.co.uk.