Lebanon holds Baalbek concert despite virus, economic crisis

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Musicians from the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra perform during a concert in the ancient northeastern city of Baalbek, Lebanon, Sunday, July 5, 2020. Dubbed "an act of cultural resilience," the concert aims to send a message of unity and hope to the world amid the coronavirus pandemic and an unprecedented economic and financial crisis in Lebanon. For the first time since the Baalbek International Festival was launched in 1956, this year's concert is being held without an audience, in line with strict COVID-19 guidelines. Instead, it is being broadcast live on local and regional TV stations and live-streamed on social media platforms. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

BAALBEK – Lebanon on Sunday hosted its annual music festival in the ancient northeastern city of Baalbek without an audience for the first time, a move organizers dubbed “an act of cultural resilience” to the coronavirus pandemic as well as the country's unprecedented economic meltdown.

Held amid soaring Roman columns, the Baalbek International Festival was founded in 1956. This year, it's being broadcast on local and regional TV stations and livestreamed on social media in an effort to spread “unity and hope."

“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 concert with 150 musicians and choral singers opened with the national anthem followed by “O Fortuna” from the cantata “Carmina Burana” by Carl Orff. It included a mix of classical music, including Beethoven and Verdi, as well as tunes from Lebanese composers, the Rahbani brothers, and beloved Lebanese singer Fairouz.

Lebanese watching the 55-minute show at home posted nostalgic sentiments on social media about bygone days that have been replaced by an economic crisis and growing poverty and hunger.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 being shaken by a severe economic and financial crisis, made worse in recent months by the coronavirus and lockdown restrictions. The financial crisis is rooted in decades of systematic corruption and mismanagement by Lebanon’s ruling elite, who critics say refuse to reform despite an uprising that erupted last October and a rapidly deteriorating economy.

The festival's website said this year's program, entitled “Sound of Resilience,” was “one of the first big cultural events and a premiere in the Middle East after the confinement due to COVID-19."