Since its first edition in 1958, the George Enescu International Festival has become one of the most prestigious music festivals in the world. Acclaimed artists from all over the globe travel to perform on the Bucharest concert stages over a glorious month of varied repertoire that features the compositions of Romanian composer George Enescu, opera, family concerts, modern and contemporary music, world and Romanian premieres, alongside an impressive selection of Classic, Romantic and Baroque music. The festival also provides the opportunity for its international public to enjoy the treasures and delights that the Romanian capital has to offer, from historical to artistic to culinary. I had the pleasure of speaking with Cristina Uruc, interim manager of Artexim, the managing institution of the Enescu International Festival and Enescu International Competition. She gives us a glimpse into the inner workings of the festival.
What are your responsibilities in organizing and managing this major international festival?
My responsibility is to transform the vision of the festival’s artistic director, Maestro Cristian Macelaru, into an administrative and logistical reality. This begins a long time in advance with discussions about the artistic program, the orchestras, the conductors. So, Maestro Macelaru presents his vision, and we consolidate everything. We contact the artists’ agents and discuss all the necessary conditions of their participation in the festival, from transport to honorariums to lodging to local transportation of artists and of instruments to contractual technical riders… absolutely everything involved in the logistical aspects.
Most people may not realize the extent of hard work and detail involved in organizing and managing the festival…
That’s true. It’s an enormous amount of work done by a small team. At Artexim we are 17 employees; when I took over in March 2022, we were 12. As we get closer to the festival opening, the team grows organically, adding people who focus on the artists. We have a welcoming team, a catering team, a stewardship team, and they collaborate with us over the duration of the festival. The rest of the time we work on the festival; it’s a colossus and we have to begin working on it long ahead of time given the huge number of artists that participate. Counting orchestra members, we have around 3,500 artists coming to Bucharest over one month and this requires immense attention. Since 2014, the Enescu Festival and the Enescu Competition have been organized separately, in alternate years. Before, they both took place in the same year, with the competition during the first two weeks of the festival. Now we hold the competition in even-numbered years, so the last one was in 2022, and the festival in odd-numbered years. Throughout each year we focus on organizing and preparing for these two major events. We do have other types of activities that we would like to reactivate, like supporting and nurturing young artists in Romania by organizing tours. Last year, we sent the George Enescu Philharmonic Choir to perform in a Christmas concert in Berlin conducted by Maestro Vladimir Jurowski; the Philharmonic asked us to organize and manage this tour. We know how to do this work and would like to expand our activity, but the issue is human resources. Our revenue and salaries come from ticket sales. I hope that next year we can increase our team. It’s important to choose sponsors that have similar principles and values as we do and we have a great long-term traditional sponsor in our partner Rompetrol, and this year also BRD Groupe Société Générale.
What about individual donations from those who attend?
We haven’t tried that yet. The culture of giving is slowly developing in Romania. It does exist, for instance, my colleagues are involved in volunteer projects, social or humanitarian projects. We realize that even a small contribution from us could help support culture. In Romania, fundraising has developed much more in the medical field and that’s understandable. But culture is a kind of medicine for the soul.
Please tell us about this year’s edition. What is the theme?
For this year’s edition, the theme is “Generosity Through Music” to highlight one of the principles that Maestro George Enescu believed in. He was a philanthropist his whole life and he helped not only his students but everyone around him. He was extraordinarily generous and his contribution to the development of Romanian music was incredible, which is further proof of his generosity. And music is about giving and receiving. What we offer this year are 29 days of music at the highest level. There are amazing orchestras like Orchestre National de France that will be led by Maestro Cristian Macelaru, Concertgebouw Amsterdam who is coming with the new music director and principal conductor Klaus Mäkelä; for the first time, we have Gewandhausorchester Leipzig with Herbert Blomstedt, we have Yuja Wang, Avi Avital, Europa Galante… these are a few examples of the crème de la crème participating this year. As Maestro Cristian Macelaru has a good relationship with American orchestras, we hope to have American orchestras participate in future editions.
You also welcome several artists from the United States, like Lawrence Brownlee this edition, for example. What is it like for you to work with American artists?
What I can tell you from another experience—working with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis—is that American contracts cover so many details, and I learned from them. I learned that we have to be very specific about what we want right from the beginning, so our partner knows whether they can offer it to us, and I like that very much. We can start our discussion from a very detailed base which we can simplify based on what we can offer as organizers.
Romania has grown in popularity as a travel destination and the festival is a major attraction. What have you noticed in terms of international audiences?
We do have an audience from the United States. What we’ve tried to do is to increase awareness of the festival across the ocean with some ads we placed in The New York Times directing people to our website and giving them the possibility to buy not just individual tickets but also festival passes, which was the first time we offered them for audiences outside of Romania. We are aware that Bucharest is a major tourist attraction, especially during the festival; it’s a city that’s accessible also in terms of pricing. For instance, ticket costs are incomparably smaller than they would be for the same concerts with the same prestigious artists and orchestras in other countries; there, prices would be three, four, five or even ten times more than what we offer.
What do you think the George Enescu Festival represents in today’s world?
The George Enescu Festival is an instrument of cultural diplomacy, not only for Romania but also for the entire world. It’s an example of an artistic ecosystem and it demonstrated that with the 2021 edition. It was one of the few festivals that took place with in-person audiences, respecting all the pandemic restrictions. It was all amazing: the courage that Artexim showed under the leadership of Mihai Constantinescu, the support and trust from the Romanian authorities and the involvement of the team to see it through to the end. And still, the festival brought in over 3,000 artists despite the health risks and possible flight cancellations. I greatly admire the bravery and risks taken by Mihai Constantinescu, an “acrobat without a net” as he was called. He took the festival to another level. It’s an ecosystem that withstands hurricanes. We are deeply rooted, we know what we want, and we proved this in front of the entire world. We are a lighthouse, a beacon of trust, and all the artists were smiling, so happy to perform for an in-person public. Everything took place in the safest way possible for artists and audiences. If anyone needed yet another confirmation, besides the exceptional artistic program, this was it: that Romania and the Enescu Festival shine as a beacon in the international music world even through the most difficult times.
Top photo: Courtesy of Cristina Uruc