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Macedonia’s Philharmonic Gets Used to Sound of Water

March 13, 2012

By Olivera Nikodinovska, Balkan Insight, 12.03.2012

 

Work on new home for the orchestra started back in 2009, but in the absence of progress musicians have still to perform in dire, damp conditions.

 

Practicing in front of ticket sales office | Photo courtesy of Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra

The sponges on the front-row seats and buckets placed to gather water dripping from the leaking sealing left a grim impression at recent Macedonian Philharmonic concerts.

The icing on the cake was “Coffee in Paris”, a concert devoted to the 150th anniversary of the death of the musical impressionist Claude Debussy, on February 18.

Heavy snowfall on that occasion caused water to stream down from the ceiling and flow down the walls of the hall.

Nothing has been done since by the Ministry of Culture or the Philharmonic management to solve this problem. As a result, concerts continue to take place in what many see as ruinous conditions.

Meanwhile construction of a new building for the orchestra is subjected to delays – a problem that has not occurred to other major projects forming part of the city’s “Skopje 2014” makeover.

The outside look on the future Philharmonics building | Youtube printscreen

For example, Skopje’s new triumphal arch, work on which started in June 2010, was inaugurated in January 2012. A museum dedicated to the history of the VMRO, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, and a grand monument to Alexander, erected on the main square in Skopje, have also been completed on time.

No home of its own:

The poor conditions of the building have forced Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra to cancel it’s programmes around 15 times in the last five years.

February’s embarrassment wasn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last.

The Macedonian Philharmonic remains the only such institution in Europe with no dedicated building of its own.

For decades it has rented the Army Hall from the defense ministry where, besides the poor state of the infrastructure, there are acoustic and lighting problems.

“Less than a month ago we almost stopped working completely before, at the last moment, we finally obtained some heating so that now we don’t have to work in freezing temperatures,” said Viktor Ilieski, president of the Association of Unions of Macedonian Philharmonics Performers.

Ilieski said that because the musicians lack their own professional space for individual and group practice, they have to practice at different places, mostly in the hall itself but sometimes in front of the ticket office.

They also have no dressing rooms, and so have to arrive from home already dressed in performing outfits. The coffee shop is improvised and the toilets are also in poor condition.

Aleksandar Gosev, president of the Philharmonic Union, said the acoustic problem is especially serious. “As hard as we try to sound good, the hall spoils it,” he said.

He blamed the management for having neglected the building for years, saying the union cannot solve such problems by itself.

“We don’t have right to take any action in the building because it is not our property,” he said.

“Over the years none of the directors took practical steps,” he added. “They’ve only transferred guilt from one to another”.

Multiple delays:

The projected look of the interior of the new Philharmonic building

Employees see their only real hope in completion of the long-awaited new building, which forms part of the city’s “Skopje 2014” project.

According to the project, the new concert hall should have capacity for 1,100 seats, appropriate for classical music, as well as a small concert hall containing 300 seats where experimental music will be performed.

But staff wishes will not be fulfilled any time soon, according to experts, as construction of this building is proceeding slowly.

Work on the new building started in March 2009, and according to Ministry of Culture, the skeleton ought to have been finished by last July.

But although the new building was among the first subjects of the “Skopje 2014” project, it has remained at the initial stage, with only two underground and two above-ground levels complete.

It is one of the few buildings in the Skopje reconstruction project to have received positive reviews from the critics for its modern look.

The Ministry of Culture says it is a complex project that requires a good deal of time because of its specific construction needs that demand precision technology, mathematic, seismic and other research.

But ministry officials do not explain where the problem lies exactly, and what it is they need more time for.

“Construction is going well and the project is due for completion in 2013,” Anita Jovanovska, spokesperson in the Ministry of Culture, said.

She said musicians and audience should be thankful for the fact that for the first time in history the problem of the Philharmonic Orchestra’s institutional homelessness and poor acoustic standards are about to be solved.

But one former culture minister, Blagoja Stefanovski, said it should have been built already.

“If this building is so complicated to construct, it is surely not good for construction to be delayed for so long because this must be damaging the building’s quality,” Stefanovski opined.

Some experts also query the way money has been allocated from this year’s culture ministry’s budget. While only 1.8 million euro were allocated for the new Philharmonic, 2.5 million went on the finished VMRO museum.

They also question the way the Ministry reused 246,000 euro that was left over from the money for the VMRO museum instead of diverting it to the orchestra.

Blagoja Stefanovski blames the orhcestra’s continuing problems on the muddled priorities of the government.

“There is no proper list of priorities. Constructions are being built in a chaotic order and without any logic,” she said.

“That is why the Philharmonic stays homeless, while in the meantime less important projects are constructed.”

This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.

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