Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Albanian Academy of Arts Honours June Emerson

Our founder, June Emerson, was awarded a special presentation earlier this month by the Albanian Academy of Arts for her years of hard work and tireless efforts to help Albanian musicians.

left to right: Fatos Jaho, bassoon professor at the UA and principal bassoon of the Albanian Opera Orchestra. (It was Fatos who put forward the case for the award to the Rektor together with Edmond Sinani, pictured below); Petrit Malaj, Rektor of the University of Arts presenting the Letter of Gratitude to June Emerson for services rendered to Albanian musical life and for the enrichment of the UA library; Miranda Bakiasi, the Chief Librarian of the UA, holding the elegant award 
More information (in Albanian) about the occasion is available here.

June, herself, gives us the background to the story:

"In 1987, purely by chance, I went to Albania on a small and heavily supervised weekend tour. (Full story in "Albania - the Search for the Eagle's Song" by June Emerson, published by Emerson Edition Ltd.)

When I got there, I was amazed to find that in a country the size of Wales with a population of only 3 million, there were 27 music schools, a Conservatoire, an Opera Company, a Ballet Company and seven symphony orchestras. Not only that, but the standard of playing and scholarship was extremely high. Enver Hoxha, former Prime Minister of Albania, for all his faults, put culture at the top of his agenda.

The award presented to June Emerson is inscribed: "University of the Arts, Tirana' - 'Gratitude'
I managed by various means to get invited back to find out more. I did some BBC broadcasts, wrote the above book and contributed some entries for the New Grove Dictionary of Opera.

When the communist regime fell in 1991, there was chaos for a while and the last thing anybody was interested in was Albanian classical music. I desperately wanted to help, so together with a couple of friends, I founded The Albanian Musicians' Trust. We did as much as we could to help children, students and professional musicians over the subsequent 15 years until the country had found its feet a bit. It was wound up, with a concert in Helmsley by a couple of Albanian musicians, in 2006. Very soon afterwards Miranda Sinani was offered a couple of years to do a Masters at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, so there was another energetic round of fund-raising for her for a couple of years.

With my contacts in the music business, I was able to obtain quantities of printed material and strings and accessories for the music schools and the Conservatoire (now called the University of Arts). They had not had access to good quality materials before and it made a lot of difference to their teaching and performance possibilities. Emerson Edition still sends a copy of each of its new publications to the UA library which,  though still somewhat sparse, is growing.

I visited most years from 1988 onwards to see how things were going and to make notes of requests and needs. I last visited in 2002, but David found it rather tough going (lots of walking, no lifts, rough roads and not a handrail in sight!) However I've kept in touch with key people and this year, I couldn't bear it any longer and went back for a week on November 2nd.

It was wonderful to meet up with all the old gang again - much hugging, many cups of lethal coffee and several exotic meals.

From the emails I received before the visit, I knew they were cooking something up, but wasn't prepared for the ceremony that was held at the University of Arts on Monday 5th November. 

Petrit and June both smiling after June had managed some sort of speech of thanks, despite the tears
About 50 of my musician friends turned up and I was given a beautifully inscribed document and a sort of 'Oscar' award in recognition of services to Albanian music. I was completely bowled over, cried quite a lot and was distinctly wobbly for a couple of days afterwards. Hugely proud and delighted though. Apparently they've given this award before to a few musicians but never to a foreigner."
June: "Edmond Sinani who is central to everything I've done over the years - fixing meetings, interpreting, translating, negotiating etc. As he is such a modest chap, he rarely gets any credit for what he has done, so I would very much like to acknowledge him here. He is, incidentally, Albania's first violin maker. He also repairs stringed instruments and is a teacher with a magic touch."