The Romanian Cultural Institute London has just celebrated the International Week of the Francophonie, an organization that recognizes 57 countries affiliated with French culture, either through having French as mother tongue or through cultural and historical ties. Together with the newly born Rimbaud &Verlaine Foundation in London, the ICR put together an evening of poetry and music, to celebrate Romania’s affinity with France.
Romania justifies its inclusion in the Francophone group through its extensive cultural exchange with France in the 19th and 20th centuries. Romanian artists, writers, philosophers and playwrights went to France to study and were subsequently influenced or assimilated by the culture. In the 19th century, Bucharest also went through an economic and cultural boom and competed with the French capital as a less costly tourist destination , hence the name ‘Little Paris’. To honour things past and present (today 23%of Romanians speak or understand French) the ICR evening bore the name ’Paris of the East, An Evening of French and Romanian Songs’.
At first glance the setting appeared rather confusing. The Romanian Ambassador in England invited (in English) a culturally diverse audience to an evening of French and Romanian music and poetry followed by a glass of wine, grown in France and bottled in the UK .His speech was followed by that of the equally enthusiastic chairman of the Rimbaud &Verlaine foundation, an Englishman in love with Romania.
The soprano Eliana Pretorian and the pianist Diana Ionescu, the protagonists of the evening, were also part of this rich cultural melange. Native Romanians familiar with England – Eliana Pretorian studied at the Royal College of Music and has been a frequent guest at the Glyndebourne Opera while Diana Ionescu studied with the Guildhall School of Music and has performed in England on many occasions – they’ve also featured at internationally renowned venues, and they made it their task this evening to mark the celebration of the Francophonie. The duo worked seamlessly in the same way that the poems paired with the music: Diana Ionescu, petite and unassuming, claimed the piano with great effect while Eliana Pretorian’s voice turned words into music.
It’s very rare that Verlaine meets Eminescu, and just as rare that such a combination can pass as entertainment. But it worked: it was a reminder that there’s so much more to culture than the latest billboards and box-office hits. The highlight of the evening was the music of Enescu, Romania’s most celebrated composer and one of last century’s leading Francophones.
The Day of the Francophonie coincided with the International Day of Happiness, to which Eliana Pretorian dedicated an aria. All in all, the ICR likes to celebrate – and this Francophone evening overachieved, bringing together not only two cultures, but many more.
Paris of the East: An Evening of French and Romanian Songs was part of the ongoing cultural programme at the Romanian Cultural Institute, Belgrave Square.