Summer is prime time for music festivals in Lebanon – save for one. The Al Bustan Festival famously hosts its concerts in the middle of the winter, gathering classical music lovers from Lebanon and beyond to the chilly mountains of Beit Meri for a month-long culture binge.
The festival has been held every single year without exception since 1994, when founder and president Myrna Boustani wanted to do her part to revive the country emerging from civil war and emulate the cultural scene in Europe by bringing a classical music festival to the region. Since then the annual event has been accumulating hundreds of performers from countries around the world to its growing list of alumni.
Aligned with other cultural events worldwide in 2016, this year’s festival is focused on the work of William Shakespeare in honor of the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death. Held from February 16 to March 20, this edition features 26 performances of solo instrumentalists, orchestras, opera singers, choirs, as well as actors, musicians and other performers from Lebanon, Russia, France, Armenia, Italy, the UK and more. Highlights this year include several Shakespearean plays and adaptations including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (February 18), “Otello vs Otello” (Feb 23), “Romeo and Juliet” (Feb 25), a fusion of Japanese Noh theatre with “Do you Noh Shakespeare: King Lear dreaming” (Feb 29) , a jazzy rendition of Shakespeare songs (March 2), a Shakespearean piano concert (March 16) and a very promising “Shakespeare in Arabic” performance starring Mireille Maalouf, Rifaat Torbey and Jalal Khoury (March 14). Other noteworthy musicians performing this year include French violinist Renaud Capuçon (March 5), soprano Anita Rachvelishvili from Georgia (March 6, 7) and young cello genius Edgar Moreau (March 15).
Throughout the duration of the event, a painting exhibition by Jean Marc Nahas will grace the walls of the Al Bustan hotel, where most of the performances are held. Additional events will be set at the adjacent Mar Sassine Church, as well as venues such as the Sursock Museum, the American University of Beirut and others.