11 August, 2011

East Meets West: Close Encounters of a Cultural Kind

By Mateusz Jazdzewski

Sir Roger Norrington
This year’s Edinburgh International Festival deals with the meeting of two cultures – east and west. Elements of the programme, curated by Festival Director Jonathan Mills, could be viewed as challenging the tastes of audiences often perceived to be euro-centric. However sceptics may come across a surprising revelation – that western culture’s love of the east is not in fact a novelty but has been happening over hundreds of years.

The first encounters between European and Oriental cultures can be found in ancient Greece, when philosophy and art began to mingle its ideas with the heritage of conquered cultures such as Persia, Mesopotamia and Egypt. But the real flourishing in the fashion for orientalism took place in the 18th and start of the 19th centuries – a cultural phenomenon resulting from colonial expansion in the east. European travellers made grand tours to the Middle East, Africa, China and beyond and those artists now known as the Romantics began to focus their work on the unknown exoticism of the east.

Tomorrow’s Opening Concert sets the tone for the rest of the Festival with Robert Schumann’s Das Paradies und die Peri, performed by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and conducted by Sir Roger Norrington. The oratorio is based on Thomas Moore’s tale Lalla-Rookh, the beautiful myth of the fallen angel Peri who tries to re-enter paradise by finding the gift held dearest by the gods. It is one of the brightest musical examples of 19th century European orientalism, blending the European aesthetic with eastern poetry. So successful was the fusion of these factors that the piece became one of Schumann’s greatest successes.

Das Paradies und diePeri seems the perfect choice for the Festival 2011 Opening Concert, with the spellbinding music providing the soundtrack as we begin to consider relations between east and west and the changes they have experienced over the years and the centuries.

The piece was written at a time when Europe was expanding and often imposing its own rules and traditions on conquered lands, but for contemporary audiences it also reflects the desire of this year’s Festival programme to present the beliefs and achievements of other cultures with curiosity and respect. And the value of showcasing Asian art on the European stage can also be seen not only as artistic but political, as we reassess the role of our continent on the world stage. Through shared art and culture, 21st-century Europe, and indeed the whole world, can promote and understand the shifting parameters of the global landscape.

Das Paradies und die Peri
Robert Schumann

Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Sir Roger Norrington
Edinburgh Festival Chorus

Tickets available from eif.co.uk/opening or 0131 473 2000

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