West Coast Symphony Orchestra embarks on musical tour of Balkans
A love of classical music has become a passport to the Balkans.
Around 30 members of the West Coast Symphony Orchestra are departing today (June 29) for a goodwill tour of Albania and Macedonia.
For Bujar Llapaj, the orchestra’s principal conductor, the visit to southeastern Europe is a chance to show off Albania, his home country, to his Canadian colleagues.
Llapaj immigrated to Canada with his wife and son around ten years ago. Trained in Europe, he is a well-known figure in the Albanian classical music scene. He described the upcoming musical tour as a cultural learning experience for the orchestra members.
“People are curious about Albania,” Llapaj told the Straight by phone from the country’s capital, Tirana, where he has been preparing for the tour.
“It was a closed country. They didn’t know too much about it,” he said, referring to a period of communist rule that ended in the early 1990s.
“Maybe they will know me more because I was raised here.”
The tour kicks off with a Canada Day concert in Tirana on July 1. In total, six concerts are planned during the two-week trip, including an appearance at a music festival in Skopje, Macedonia’s capital. Albanian musicians are set to join the orchestra on stage for the performances.
Also during the tour, the orchestra members plan to help open a music school in Llapaj’s home village, Antigone, and donate instruments they have gathered.
Llpaj said it is a struggle to afford good musical equipment in Albania. He envisions the new school as a place where youth can explore music without being pressured to make it a career, similar to school band programs in Canada.
The West Coast Symphony Orchestra, established in the early 1970s, is a nonprofit, non-professional group run by a board made up of its own members. With an aim to improve access to classical music, the orchestra regularly performs across southwestern B.C., offering admission to concerts by donation.
Paul McEwen, an orchestra board member and trumpet player taking part in the tour, said the visit to Albania and Macedonia is being primarily funded by orchestra members.
McEwen, who also visited Albania last May, said the idea of doing the tour has been in the works for years. It's the first of its kind for the orchestra.
He said the visit will be a chance to strengthen ties between the countries and provide the musicians with an amazing experience.
“I’m most looking forward to building those bridges with people in a country that I would never ever have otherwise had an opportunity to get to know,” McEwen told the Straight by phone before departing for Albania.
For more information about the tour, visit http://www.wcsoinalbania.blogspot.ca/.