Saturday, February 5, 2011

Musical Bridge Egypt-Finland

As chaos sweeps through Egypt and ripples throughout the entire Middle East, I realize my knowledge of that region is limited. Being a Jew, I feel protective of Israel and fear for the nation's future. I follow the news as best I can with an eye toward Israel's safety but, as an outsider, I rarely know what to believe from the media.

Realizing that my dear friend and colleague, Finnish conductor and pianist Ralf Gothóni helped to create the "Musical Bridge Egypt-Finland" in 2004, and was scheduled for performances in Cairo this week but had to cancel due to the internal conflicts, I asked him for a more intimate perspective. I met Ralf Gothóni in 2001, when he marked his first guest appearance with Northwest Chamber Orchestra in Seattle as pianist and conductor. He was immediately appointed the position of Music Director after his highly acclaimed performances and maintained that post until the orchestra's unfortunate demise by corrupt, dictatorial, musical community leaders in 2006. Unlike so many self-serving artists, Ralf Gothóni's mission is one of relatedness through musical exploration. For me, Ralf imparted a level of transcendent musical awareness that I never before experienced. I find myself wondering selfishly if our paths crossed for that reason alone. His philosophy has stuck with me to the point that no matter what obstacles I face, personal or professional, I remember this underlying wisdom that he imparted:

What we are doing is trying to understand the logic of musical feelings, how the energy in music functions when there are more than just two or three people involved, what is the motivation for the piece, why the composer wrote it as he did. There are things everyone must find for themselves. It's not a matter of someone saying 'This is the way to do it'. We have a dialogue. It's different with every group, every person you make music with, because each brings his or her own perspective. Musicians are merely a medium for a musical truth. We should be like crystals through which the light is refracted in many different ways. But to do that, the crystal must be clear: it's very easy to make it dirty. That's the problem. How can we develop ourselves to be as clear as possible in this short life?

With the help of the Finnish Embassy in Cairo, and Savonlinna Music Academy (which Gothóni is Artistic Director), artists, scientists, politicians including the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Martti Ahtisaari, the idea of a musical collaboration between Egypt and Finland was born. Ralf's longterm goal for the Musical Bridge is that of bringing classical music to the students of Cairo in the form of "homeopathic pills"; especially in the way of chamber musical understanding of the structures, emotions and human connections. The people in Ralf's circle have expressed a desire for a free islamic country with European-like freedom, without fundamentalism, dictatorship but also without strong Western capitalism. He has never sensed any negativity toward the Israelis. This message alone offers me tremendous hope.

The Egyptian musicians are open with their minds and hearts. Music touches them deeply. In the two professional orchestras of Cairo, the instruments are of poor quality and the salaries are substandard. But Ralf assures me that the enthusiasm is very different from anything here, for life is difficult and nothing is taken for granted. Many of the students have continued their studies during the summer in Savonlinna, Finland and also in Germany.

Which brings me to acknowledge that I consider my work with Ralf Gothóni to have been the pinnacle of my performing career, for he instilled this philosophy which I hope to transmit to students:
Music is for us musicians a lifetime vocation. Our challenge, responsibility and mission is to practice ourselves to open the door of spiritual self-knowledge and to share it.

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