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The New Arab Staff

#SoundOfResilience: Lebanon holds Baalbek concert despite virus, economic crisis

The Baalbek International Festival was founded in 1956 [Getty]

Date of publication: 6 July, 2020

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This year's Baalbek International Festival broadcasted performances, held among Roman columns, on local and regional TV stations and streamed on social media platforms.

A renowned annual music festival in Lebanon was performed on Sunday in the northeastern city of Baalbek without an audience for the first time, as the country grapples with unprecedented economic meltdown and the coronavirus pandemic.

The Baalbek International Festival, founded in 1956, was streamed live on television and social media, in what its director called a message of "hope and resilience" amid ever-worsening daily woes.

Conducted by Harout Fazlian, the 150 musicians and chorists were scattered inside the illuminated Temple of Bacchus, as drones filmed them among the enormous ruins and Greco-Roman temples of Baalbek.

The concert kicked off with the Lebanese philharmonic orchestra and choir performing the national anthem as hundreds of thousands tuned in to the broadcast.

The performance was followed by Carmina Burana's "O Fortuna", a 13th century poem set to music

The programme, which ran for just over an hour, included a mix of classical music and rock and folk tunes by composers ranging from Beethoven to Lebanon's Rahbani brothers.

"We could not have an audience, since it is impossible to bring 2,000-3,000 people to Baalbek amid the coronavirus precautions, so we decided to bring Baalbek into people’s homes," Nayla de Freige, the festival's president, told the local LBC TV station.

The festival's conductor Fazlian said: "I would not call it a concert. I'd call it a message of solidarity and unity." 

"People in their homes will be having front seats for one hour during which they can forget everything and listen to music," he told LBC.

Lebanese watching the show at home posted nostalgic sentiments on social media about bygone days that have been replaced by an economic crisis and growing poverty and hunger. 

"It is as if we are saying farewell to the Lebanon we knew and dreamed of," said economist and political activist Jad Chaaban on Twitter. 

Lebanon is known for its summer music festivals, which have in past years drawn large crowds every night and attracted performers like Shakira, Sting and Andrea Bocelli. Other festivals have not yet announced their plans for this year. 

Lebanon has recorded just 1,873 cases of Covid-19, including 36 deaths. 

But measures to stem the spread of the virus have exacerbated the country's worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Read also: Lebanon suicides spark outrage at govt over economic crisis

Since economic woes in the autumn sparked mass protests against a political class deemed irretrievably corrupt, tens of thousands have lost their jobs or part of their income, and prices have skyrocketed.

Banks have prevented depositors from withdrawing their dollar savings, while the local currency has lost more than 80 percent of its value to the greenback on the black market. 

Agencies contributed to this report.

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