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You can hear Europe in Roma music

2023-08-19 08:56:00, Kulturë CNA
You can hear Europe in Roma music
Conductor Riccardo M. Sahiti

Riccardo M. Sahiti: When I was a child I didn't know what life would bring, but I always had an interest in classical music. We had a small radio and always listened to classical music. There I was always like in another world. I would sit in front of the mirror and start conducting. My sisters and parents were like, "What are you doing like that?" I didn't know what that meant, what awaited me. But I always had it in my heart.

Is there a work or a composer that has particularly inspired you?

Yes, I greatly appreciate Beethoven as an example to me - and to the world. His fifth, fourth, seventh symphonies... In the seventh symphony there are also Roma motifs in the last part, in the finale. I have to emphasize the orchestral interpretations conducted by Carlos Kleiber, how he expresses the idea of ??these works with great emotion, passion and brilliance. And then of course romanticism, Dvorak, the eighth or ninth symphony. Also the music of Franz Liszt, the second Hungarian Rhapsody, in which there is a passage a la Zingarese in the style of Romani music.

You can hear Europe in Roma music
Riccardo M. Sahiti, founder and conductor of the Roma and Sinti Philharmonic Orchestra

What is Roma music to you? Or what is a la zingarese? What does it say about you?

Maybe I didn't know it before, but today, after 20 years of experience with the Roma and Sinti Philharmonic, I can say: this is the music that was played for the first time by the Roma in different European countries, such as in Hungary. So-called folk music was often Roma music.

Like Bartok or Kodaly, who assumed they were recording Hungarian folk music, which was actually Romani music?

That's how it is. Kodaly tells how when he was young, he often took the train from Galanta (a city in today's Slovakia) to Vienna. He always heard Roma songs on the road. He orchestrated these songs under the title "Dances from Galanta" and then gave them to a Hungarian orchestra as a gift. Or listen to Brahms, "Hungarian Dances". We performed No. 4 in F minor in Römerplatz on the occasion of the 600th anniversary of to the first documented mention of Roma in Frankfurt am Main. Some said: these are Hungarian dances. Of course these are also Hungarian dances, but in these Hungarian dances - as in the fourth, fifth, sixth - there is Roma music.

The same can be said for Romania. Romanian folk music is also heavily influenced by traditional Roma music. And this traditional music was also listened to with interest by George Enescu, who included it in the composition of his first rhapsody. This also applies to other composers. In the 19th century Vienna, Budapest and Prague were probably the most important places for romantic music - and they were influenced by Roma musicians like Janos Bihari. Bihari was a great musician, he had an ensemble with violin, viola, contrabass, and clarinet and cymbals.

Romani and classical tradition

This is also a fairly typical ensemble for the light music of the time...

That's right, there is a historic moment in Vienna, at the World Congress, where he played. Even Beethoven heard it.

In contrast to these ensembles, you have put together an entire symphony orchestra, the Rome and Sinti Philharmonic. What is special about this orchestra?

In my orchestra, everyone is a professionally trained musician. They are Roma, but they play in international professional orchestras. There are, for example, musicians who play at the Vienna State Opera, as cellists in the MDR orchestra in Leipzig, as concertmasters in Gotha. Many of them come from Hungary, so thanks to this tradition with Kodaly and Bartok there are many Roma who graduated from the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. Musicians are like our musical descendants, passing down this music - classical music and folk music at the same time from their grandfather or great-grandfather and from their father.

What does it mean when someone from a Roma tradition later becomes a professional classical musician? What spirit is there, how does it affect the atmosphere of working with the orchestra for you?

There is always a lot of discussion at our rehearsals. Someone says, for example: "Liszt wrote it like this". Then others say, "This is not the right rhythm, as it is written there." Many of them come from a tradition in which they and their family have played only in small ensembles for centuries. Some performance styles and traditional rhythms. Then I come as a conductor with my training, study and experience – and the expertise of various professors. Different traditions and classic style meet each other. And then there are discussions! And when we play George Enescu (from Romania), for example, then some Roma from Romania say: "This is our music!". And if we play another rhythm, they say: "No, no, we play this as classical, no, no!" - and these are those fluctuations. In the end, an interpretation emerges, which is not necessarily the one I had imagined at the beginning. In the end there is always another dimension.

You can hear Europe in Roma music
Riccardo M. Sahiti, founder and conductor of the Roma and Sinti Philharmonic Orchestra

This orchestra, these musicians - they are like ambassadors. They show what has connected us for centuries: the heritage is music, the music of this Roma people, who have homelands in many European countries. They speak the language of the countries they come from, have acquired tradition, culture, religion, but also have their musical power and energy. And when they come here, to our project, then all Europe is here, all the culture of Europe! And then these 70 musicians in the orchestra begin to play - like a soloist. And I'm just the one who says, "Tell me, tell me, what else do you want!"

And you also leave room for improvisation?

I think that to have so many spontaneous and emotional musicians in an orchestra, who can go instantly from classical music to Roma and improvisation - it's rare. This is a gift, a gift to music.

Is it your first orchestra of this kind?

A Roma and Sinti orchestra exists for the first time in this century, in the 21st century.

Part of the same European history

Beyond the music, what political message do you associate with this orchestra?

Many peoples live on this planet Earth. And we are all human. For the Roma, who have lived here in Europe for more than 600 years, there is rarely positive news in the media. In most cases only when there is a scandal or sometimes even sad things. But the connection that the Roma have had for centuries with all peoples through music is rarely mentioned. And now this orchestra is trying to convey the message: People, this is our Roma music, but this Roma music is about Europe! With French music - George Bizet wrote "Carmen", Ravel or Debussy were inspired by Roma music. We are also connected with Russian music. Sergei Rachmaninov was in love with a Roma woman. Thanks to this woman he was in a Roma family, there he heard how the Roma sing. Melodies he had never heard before. And then he came home and composed his first symphony, and it just has Roma music in it. And he composed an opera "Aleko". it is the story of a man who, because of a Roma woman, says that he no longer wants to be a soldier, but simply to be next to this woman. This is passion, emotion!

All this is part of a story that unites this orchestra. We want to show that we are European citizens, that we should have equal opportunities as everyone else on this planet, no more and no less. That we can live normally here. And we want to rediscover with this orchestra also forgotten musical works, like those of Bihar. We would like to further expand our repertoire with such works!

How do you want to perpetuate this European idea of ??your orchestra?

In many European countries there are national, regional and municipal orchestras. And the European Union could say that the Roma and Sinti Philharmonic is for a European heritage, for a common European culture. Because the French, Germans, Italians, Hungarians, Romanians, Spaniards, Dutch and Austrians all feel equally confident in this music. I need the support of the European Union, so that this orchestra project becomes a permanent orchestra. Now I'm at the beginning, and with the European support you will still experience a lot of symphonic music, a lot of dance music. We will feed the world with music, this is the power of this orchestra!

What's your take on the term "gypsy music"?

Composers named their music as was common for the time. But I would always say: This is Roma music. That's what it's called in my language. The word gypsy does not exist in our language. I was born in Serbia, in the former Yugoslavia. The word "gypsy" was very bad for me. When I started the music school at the age of seven, our house in "Mahala" (a suburban Roma neighborhood) in Mitrovica was destroyed by a flood. And then we got a house from the state another part of the city, and that's where I grew up. Then my father said to me: "There are no other children here, you can't do anything here, go to music school!" Okay, then I took the violin and went . Some of the kids there were saying to me: "Gypsy, gypsy!" And I was saying to them: "Excuse me, what is this? Who are you? What does that mean?" I didn't understand that word. I'm about to say Roma.

"Each person is unique!"

Is it important that all Roma children learn the Roma language?

Yes! I think that many Roma know their language, but many have also forgotten it. I would say: First of all, we must speak the language of the country where we live. And we must also learn the Roma language, the language of our people. And of course always English.

What memories do you have from your childhood, how did it affect you?

When I look back, I say that many things were beautiful, despite all the problems that existed. I am grateful that I was born in Yugoslavia and grateful that my father had a job - in a cigarette factory. I grew up in Tito's time, it seemed to me then that all the citizens or all the peoples of Yugoslavia lived in peace with each other. And we lived simply! However, for me it was like being in a paradise. At that time I could not imagine what would happen later.

You can hear Europe in Roma music
Adelheid Feilcke and Riccardo M. Sahiti, founder and conductor of the Philharmonic Orchestra Rome and Sinti

My education has been really important! I recently heard at a world Roma congress in Berlin, that many young Roma have absolutely no chance, that Roma children in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, even in Kosovo, in other regions are automatically sent to special schools. It means they don't go to school with all the kids. I think this is a big mistake!

What is your advice for the young people of the Roma community? What should they do?

To learn! Take a craft. They must believe that they can succeed! If they say I want to be a doctor, I want to be a scientist, I will become a poet, an artist, then they should take that path! And then they will succeed! If I can make it, so can everyone else! This is important! We are all human beings in this cosmos - and we all have talent, intelligence and emotion. Each one is unique, each one! This is the wealth of our land, we must all succeed, succeed in a positive way. This is what I want.

You yourself have been in Germany for 31 years, that is, about half of your life. What is Germany for you?

I received from the German President, Joachim Gauck, in 2016 the German Cross of Merit for founding the Roma and Sinti Philharmonic. This is a great honor for me! But when I think of Germany, I also think of Roger Moreno-Rathgeb and his Requiem for Auschwitz. It is a reminder and a message for the reconciliation of all peoples after the Second World War, a tribute to all the people who gave their lives.

Germany, this is my homeland! I am also a German citizen. I think this is my third home. The first homeland is the place where I was born. The second house is where my wife lives. But the third house is Germany, which, together with friends, politicians and society, enables the orchestra.

And I think we could create this orchestra only in Germany. I have analyzed it: In no other country would this be possible, only in the Federal Republic of Germany. I think I came here to Germany at the right time, at the right moment. And I am very grateful and proud, that I live in this great musical country, where great composers come from. And I want peace, so that not only I, but also hundreds of generations after me live on this continent. For us to create musical works. With each other! As the music shows us, we can do anything together!

Conductor Riccardo M. Sahiti is the founder and director of the Roma and Sinti Philharmonic. He grew up in the former Yugoslavia. After studying music in Belgrade and Moscow, he came to Germany. In 2016, Sahiti was awarded the German Cross of Merit./ DW

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