Cyprus The Pharos Arts Foundation – Nicosia, Cyprus (BM)
The Greek word Pharos means ‘lighthouse’, or ‘beacon’, and that is precisely what the Nicosia-based foundation of the same name represents to the arts in this extraordinary location on the south-eastern rim of Europe, a cross-roads between the old continent, Asia and Africa, where intercultural dialogue is taking on an ever-increasing urgency. Over the decade and a half since its inception, the Pharos Arts Foundation has succeeded in introducing two international festivals for chamber and contemporary music as well as an educational, visual arts and artist-in-residency program (alongside many other activities – find out more at www.pharosartsfoundation.com).
On a recent visit to Cyprus, I had the good fortune to attend a performance – part of the year-round Pharos Concert and Recital Series – which turned out to be my most memorable musical experience of the entire year (see S&H’s Best of 2012 section at: https://www.seenandheard-international.com/our-reviewers-choices-for-2012/).
This was thanks above all to the powerful pianism of Sergei Babayan, who appeared at an utterly unique venue just a stone’s throw from the ‘Green Line’ in Nicosia.
The recital program (listed below) was an achievement in itself, and the immediacy of Babayan’s playing soon revealed that he is one of those rare artists who succeed in introducing audiences to new music while choosing a fresh angle on more traditional repertoire. His opening rendition of Ryabov’s Fantasia – dedicated to a great pianist and free spirit of Stalinist Russia, Maria Yudina – was a case in point; far from offering instant gratification, in Babayan’s hands it was stunning, not pleasing, a veritable aleph of a piece for the way it produces a feeling of eternity by bringing together the seemingly incompatible. Following this tour de force, it was with incredible ease that he made the transition to the divine heartbeat of Messaien’s Vingt Regards, not to mention his resplendently articulate, colorful Bach – and these latter pieces were not standard concert fare, either. The subsequent Rachmaninov was utterly thrilling, especially the seldom-heard transcriptions by Volodos and perhaps even more so that all-time favorite, the beautiful Prelude in D major, written when the composer was at the height of his career and in love – all of which will remain ingrained in my memory for the sheer lack of frenzy brought to those vintage Rachmaninov surges and swells that lead most pianists into temptation. Still, it was perhaps Arvo Pärt’s Für Alina, one of Babayan’s preferred encores, which conveyed the strongest allusion to the spiritual dimension of his artistry (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAdza36Fw5U).
Add to this a truly exceptional setting: The Shoe Factory, an industrial building renovated into a minimalist dream and now the home of Garo Keheyan, president of the Pharos Arts Foundation – in fact, the recital was held in his living room. Although it is of course enormous by average residential standards, with room for a hundred-odd guests and a concert grand, these personal surroundings nonetheless made for a rare atmosphere.
As we made our way to Ermou Street after dusk, through a neighborhood of empty streets and past an armed sentry, a muezzin launched his call to prayer on the other side of the UN buffer zone which runs down the middle of Nicosia, Europe’s last divided capital. Outside the building, Kaarina Kaikkonen’s installation foretold the message of the music about to be heard inside, with shirts of many colors connecting the “factory’s” sleek new structure with the derelict buildings across the way, a link between old and new, diverse colors and cultures. She called it A Connection – alluding perhaps to the kind which beautiful but troubled Cyprus is still in need of.
In its own words, the mission of the Pharos Arts Foundation is about “drawing on the island’s unique heritage and location” and “increased interaction and intercultural dialogue”. I wish the foundation much success and growing audiences in 2013, not least since its efforts are contributing to making a visit here even more worthwhile than in the past. Cyprus is a lovely country and it has much more to offer than the package tours to seaside resorts it is so well-known for. Things are on the move, slowly but surely, and to quote Lawrence Durrell in Bitter Lemons, “In Cyprus, time is everything”. Take a moment to reflect on current events in the neighboring regions around South-Eastern Europe, though, and your conclusion may well be that time is running out. That is why it is so important to support organizations such as Pharos.
December 31st, 2012
Bettina Mara, European Editor
Sergei Babayan’s Recital Program on October 16th, 2012, at The Shoe Factory in Nicosia, Cyprus
Vladimir Ryabov (b. 1950) Fantasia in C minor, Op.21, in memory of Maria Yudina
Olivier Messiaen (1908 – 1992) Première communion de la Vierge from Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus
J.S. Bach (1685 – 1750) Selection from the Klavierbüchlein for Wilhelm Friedemann Bach
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873 – 1943)
Prelude in D major Op. 23, No. 4
Etude tableau in E-flat minor Op. 39, No. 5
‘Andante’, From the Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 19 (transcribed by A. Volodos)
Etude tableau in C minor Op. 39, No.1
Etude tableau in A minor Op. 39, No.2
Melodia, Op. 21, No. 9 (song transcribed by A. Volodos)
Moment musical in E-flat minor Op. 16, No. 2
Moment musical in C major Op.16, No. 6
Arvo Pärt (b. 1935)