Lebanon on Sunday hosted its annual famous music festival in the ancient northeastern city of Baalbek without an audience. The unprecedented move was dubbed by the organisers as “an act of cultural resilience” to the global coronavirus pandemic as well as the country’s unprecedented economic crisis.
By Arthur Blok
Held amid soaring Roman columns, the Baalbek International Festival was founded in 1956. This year, it was broadcast on local and regional TV stations and live-streamed on social media in an effort to spread “unity and hope.”
The “Sound of Resilience” was a live broadcast of the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra, in collaboration with the Antonine University & Notre-Dame University & Qolo Atiqo Choirs was directed and conducted by Harout Fazlian. The spectacle was one of the first big cultural events and a premiere in the Middle East after the confinement due to COVID-19.
The dramatic setting — a massive Roman forum — was always part of the festival’s magic. Sunday’s concert was held at the Bacchus Temple, which stands in front of six columns that remain from the Temple of Jupiter. The ruins date back to the second and third centuries.
Lebanon is currently being shaken by a severe economic and financial crisis, made worse in recent months by the coronavirus and lockdown restrictions. The financial crisis is rooted in decades of systematic corruption and mismanagement by Lebanon’s ruling elite, who critics say refuse to reform despite a nationwide uprising that erupted last October and a rapidly deteriorating economy.
Although the lack of an audience is new, the festival suffered a 23-year hiatus during Lebanon’s civil war. It resumed in 1997, later hosting concerts by world-renowned artists including French singer Charles Aznavour in 1999, English musician Sting in 2001 and France’s Johnny Hallyday in 2003.
The festival was also stopped for one year in 2006 because of a month-long war between Israel and the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. Baalbek remains a Hezbollah stronghold, although the city continued to attract tourists.