Top musicians gather for Romania's "absolute" composer

BUCHAREST - Yehudi Menuhin described the Romanian violinist and composer George Enescu as "the absolute by which I judge all others".

And 58 years after Enescu's death, more than 4,000 musicians from around the world, including top symphonic orchestras, will gather in Bucharest for a month to pay tribute to Romania's greatest composer.

Conductor Daniel Barenboim will on Sunday open the four-week "Enescu international music festival", considered by critics as one of the most prestigious in Europe.

He will conduct the Berlin Staatskapelle orchestra and internationally acclaimed pianist Radu Lupu for Enescu's Romanian Rhapsody no. 2.

"Bucharest has always been a major musical centre and it has an added magic because of the name of Enescu," Barenboim told a press conference.

"Enescu was a very unusual figure, he was not only very well known as a wonderful violinist, he was a composer, he was a pianist and one of the most admired musical figure of the twentieth century," he added.

The festival features international orchestras like the Rome-Accademia Santa Cecilia, the Amsterdam Royal Concertgebouw or the London Royal Philharmonic.

The rising Chinese piano star Yuja Wang will play with the Pittsburgh Symphonic Orchestra.

Also performing will be Russian pianists Boris Berezovski and conductor Antonio Pappano, the director of the London Royal Opera House.

"It is very rare to see such a density of top musicians over such a short period," Ioan Holender, the former director of the Vienna State Opera told AFP.

Romanian-born Holender is acting as artistic director of the festival and has been trying for years to make Enescu's music better known around the world.

Enescu was born in the village of Liveni in northern Romania to a family of 12. His first violin lessons came from a local Roma fiddler.

He entered the Vienna Conservatory at the age of 7, graduating with distinction as a violinist at the age of 10.

He played to Brahms and knew Bartok, Strauss, Ravel, Debussy and Shostakovich.

Acclaimed internationally as a violinist, he was less known in the West as a composer though he wrote operas like "Oedipe", rhapsodies and symphonies inspired by Romanian traditional music.

In 1958, the Enescu festival was set up in Bucharest to pay tribute to his music.

The biennial festival was banned by the communist regime in 1971 but came back to life after the fall of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989.

Today it attracts around 120,000 spectators.

During the festival, concerts will also take place on the streets, in cafes and even in tribunals. Contemporary artists will expose their works in public squares.

"The international press usually writes about Romanians linked to crime and corruption but we wanted to show the creativity of this country", Oana Marinescu, PR manager for the festival, told AFP.