INTERVIEW: Algeria's classical music festival, a rare gem of the Arab world

Ati Metwaly, Thursday 2 Oct 2014

Ahram Online talks to Abdelkader Bouazzara, artistic director of the International Festival of Classical Music whose 6th edition closed 19 September

Abelkader Bouazzara
Abelkader Bouazzara, artistic director of the International Festival of the Classical Music in Algeria (Photo: courtesy of the festival's administration)

Between 12 and 19 September, the International Festival of Classical Music brought a great number of musicians and orchestras to the Algerian capital. This year in its sixth edition, the growing success of the festival is apparent. Bouazzara Abdelkader, leader of the National Symphony Orchestra since 2001, is the festival's artistic director since its inception in 2009. He talked to Ahram Online about the event's organisation and development.

Ahram Online (AO): It is clear that with each year the festival you direct is gaining popularity in the world of classical music. At the same time, this kind of music is not necessarily the first choice for many listeners in the Arab world. What is the secret of your success?

Abdelkader Bouazzara (AB): First we must underline that the festival operates according to international standards and the organisation of each edition begins once the previous one ends. We owe this success to several parties: our culture ministry that has always supported us on all levels, our musicians who are fully dedicated to this project, foreign musical ensembles and orchestras who responded to our invitation, our sponsors and partners, and our dear audience — the regulars and those who remain faithful to all the editions of this festival.

AO: What in general is the size of the festival in terms of musicians and orchestras that participate?

AB: The overall number of musical formations is usually 20. They vary in size in each edition, from trios to symphony orchestras. This year, we hosted the Sinfonietta Yokohama from Japan, and the German Klang Essenz with five musicians. On the other hand, there were orchestras such as Symphony Orchestra of Tunisia, the Radio Orchestra of Ukraine and the Heilongjiang Symphony Orchestra from China. Egypt, which has already visited the festival with A Capella Choir back in 2012 (the 4th edition), this time took part with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Chamber Orchestra from Alexandria. In short, the number of musicians participating in the festival varies but the average number of foreign musicians is about 234, not to mention conductors and opera singers.

AO: This large number of internationally renowned orchestras and soloists must be a challenging task on the financial level. Does this mean that you set high prices for tickets? What audience are you targeting?

AB: The state works towards the development of culture and making it accessible to all citizens. For example, the ticket fee is 200 dinars (LE17 or $2.5) and this due to state subsidies of culture, as it has always been doing. The festival management was created, including all the human, financial and material resources needed for the success — and especially the continuation — of this festival. It should be noted that this festival, just like all festivals founded by the Algerian Ministry of Culture, has its own budget.

AO: And is this policy rewarded with large audiences?

AB: Definitely. We have 800 in the audience each evening. Last year, when the festival was held at the Palace of Culture Moufdi Zakaria, a beautiful location with a wonderful view of the Bay of Algiers, the number was even higher, reaching 1,000 every night. Each year, the International Festival of Classical Music attracts more and more audiences. Algerians love art, and especially classical music.

AO: Is there any selection strategy in regard to the choice of participating orchestras and musicians in the festival?

AB: The festival welcomes all musical formations that perform this genre of music. Yet, since it's an international festival, the only criterion is professionalism. In the process, we contact foreign embassies and officials in Algiers, who suggest musicians and orchestras from their respective countries.

AO: The National Symphony Orchestra of Algeria plays an important role in the festival and in the musical life of Algeria. How does the orchestra manage to reach out to the numerous social strata in the country?

AB: We opt for a policy of proximity. The orchestra is not limited to Algiers. It tours across the 48 wilayas (governorates) of the country. Since its inception in 1992, the orchestra has performed in almost every Algerian town, and continues this practice. Audiences in all parts of the country appreciate classical music. We also focus on bringing this music to a wide audience through active communication tools, with the press helping us a lot, and concerts are tailored with a specific audience in mind. In the end, let us recall the words by American writer Robert Fulghum: "Music is far too important to reserve it only for professionals."

Bibliotheca Alexandrina Chamber Orchestra
Bibliotheca Alexandrina Chamber Orchestra conducted by Nayer Nagui performs at the classical music festival in Elgeria, September 2014. (Photo: courtesy of the festival's administration)

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