The spectacular and grand biennial peagent of the international music festival “Sharq Taronalari” – “Melodies of the East” – is held once every two years at Samarkand in Uzbekistan, and has gained the status of being one of the most panoramic and enchanting events in the cultural calender of Central Asia.  The current Sharq Taronalari Festival was held and took place during the last week of August this year at the central Samarkand square called the “Registan.”  Part of an ancient and splendid medieval ensemble of oriental beauty, the Registan Square in Samarkand is a world heritage site.  Travellers of yore passing Samarkhand on the Great Silk Road have called this city a “Pearl of the Orient” for its beautiful and magnificent palace architecture. As the capital of the sprawling medieval empire of Taimurlane, Samarkand attracted some of the best minds and talents of that time – scientists, artists, architects, poets.  And each of them have done their bit to glorify this legendary oriental city in their own ways.

Centuries came and went, and Samarkand survived them with aplomb.  Today, the Registan Square is where the haunting melodies of the orient find breathtaking expression in the pan-global musical event of “Sharq Taronalari” once every two years towards the end of the hot summer season.  The festival brings together hundreds upon hundreds of talented singers, dancers and musicians to take part in the showcasing of the vast musical spectrum of skills and creativity, and present to their peers and appreciative audiences the hoary musical traditions of the world’s nations.  The Registan Square is equipped for the event with a mammoth open-air stage, replete with sophisticated lighting and excellent acoustics, right in the midst of the Square surrounded on all sides by the edifices of the magnificent monuments of medieval islamic oriental architecture. The organizers do their best – the best decorations are chosen, interesting exhibitions and conferences are timed to synchronise with the festival, and a whole slew of foreign guests are catered for – participants, dignitaries, photographers, cinematographers and audiophiles, not to mention the world media.

This time round, quite a majority of people who came for the festival found themselves in Uzbekistan for the first time, including me.  I for instance, had no idea of what actually Samarkand was, apart from information gleaned from the public domain.  Seeing the city and feeling it’s ambience first hand was a revalation in itself.  And like me, most first time visitors had the organisers to thank, who ever so thoughtfully arranged it that we could get acquainted with this city with a 27 century-old history.  Walking around Samarkand, we visited the tomb of Taimurlane, great grandfather of Zaheeruddin Babur.  Fascinating too were the Shah-i-Zinda complex, where the spirit of a saint is believed to still live there according to legend; the ancient settlement of Afrosiab; the mausoleum of Prophet Daniel; the Madarasa of Ulugbek – an eminent medieval scientist and patron of arts and science and grandson of Taimurlane; the Bibi-Khanum Mausoleum and several other wonderful architectural monuments of Samarkhand.

Various exhibits of the national Uzbek dress, traditional musical instruments, art-bazaars and music conferences are also held during the festival. The Sharq Taronalari Festival this time lasted for almost a whole week, culminating with the finale of a grandiose super-concert in which nominees and winners of the festival also participated.  Towards the end of the show, a spectacular and breathtaking display of fireworks lit up the silky indigo Samarkand sky, lighting up the monuments in multihued colours and bidding a colourful ‘fare thee well’ to the gathered audiences as well …

This year, representatives had arrived from upwards of 66 countries to partake in the festival, with the event beiong covered by a press corp of more than 200 local journalists and several invitee foreign media houses.  The Assistant DG for External Relations & Public Information of UNESCO, Eric Falt, was the guest of honour.  The festival “Sharq Taronalari,” which is befittingly in the UNESCO list of international cultural events, also demonstrates its significance apart from being one of the most liked music events of the region.  The President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, declared the festicval open after welcoming guests and participants:

“I believe no one can deny the idea that music is an immense divine power which constantly motivates us for kindness, awakens the most gentle and sincerest feelings in any person’s heart.  I am sure all of you will agree that the magical art of music is capable to bind the people of various countries and ethnic groups, languages and beliefs to one another without any translation, and unite them towards the achievement of common objectives. This year marks the jubilee celebration – the tenth International Music Festival Sharq Taronalari. Since the foundation of the festival in 1997, the geography of its participants has considerably expanded, their numbers have doubled from 31 to 66, and I think that this fact speaks volumes. The participation of renowned masters of arts and creativity teams from dozens countries of the Asian, African, European and American continents, different regions of the East and the West in this year’s music festival suggests that our festival has been gaining popularity and recognition around the world, enhancing its prestige and credibility.  The success takes roots primarily from the humanistic ideas of Sharq Taronalari, which are close and clear to all people. So, we are surely pleased that the concept of ‘the spirit and philosophy of Samarkand’, which is filled with a deep sense and was born owing to our festival, further strengthens the bonds of friendship between nations, promotes the development of cultural dialogue and preservation of traditions of classical music.  We know well and highly appreciate the commendable contribution to the noble mission of the true masters of culture and art, the active participants of the festival, international organizations, UNESCO first and foremost, as well as our people, who have been wholeheartedly supporting this musical forum.”

Ever since the attainment of independence, Uzbekistan has attached great importance to the preservation and revival of national values, development of Uzbek musical art and its promotion globally. Anniversaries of great ancestors are celebrated, and their scientific and spiritual heritage is studied.  The international community too has recognized the pivotal roles played by the city-states like Bukhara, Khiva, Termez, Shahrisabz, Karshi and Margilan in the world civilization of yore, and Samarkand is quite aptly called the ‘heart’ of the Great Silk Road.  As per ancient sources, Central Asia’s oldest musical instrument was found in Samarkand.  Perhaps this is one reason why “Sharq Taronalari” is symbolically held in Samarkand, and in one of its oldest monuments – the majestic complex of Registan.  As People’s Artist of Uzbekistan Munojat Yulchieva notes: “The music forum ranks among the greatest achievements of our independence, as it opens up massive opportunities for creativity, and introduces many nations of the world with our art.  Its title, vector and subject have incorporated the true folk tunes, collected folk heritage from the whole world, and have given a chance for the people to get acquainted with different musical traditions.”

Each day of the festival presented unique patterns of eastern music art at the Registan Square, in the parks and palaces of the city, and in seven districts of Samarkand region, all of which truly won the hearts of thousands of fans. Participants from Costa Rica sparked quite a furore, and representatives of Azerbaijan, who rank among permanent participants of the Samarkand festival, enchanted guests with the deep and soulful performance of the traditional mugham, a classic folk song.  Recitals of musicians from Peru and Madagascar were temperamental, and the Finns took the stage down with a very interesting performance indeed.  The all-women orchestra from China looked doll-like and their music touched our hearts.  Troupes from Italy, Great Britain and others too gave spellbinding performances.

In short, each participating troupe succeeded in surprising, amazing and pleasing their audiences no end.  The winners were announced on August 30th, the last day of the festival, at the grand closing ceremony.  Methinks it was indeed a tough task faced by the International Jury, to select a winner from among so many eloquent and original performances.  The Jury this year was headed by a Professor Gen’ichi Tsuge of the Tokyo University of the Arts. The famous musicologist, researcher and professor of music theory Otanazar Matyokubov, and People’s Artist of Uzbekistan Munojat Yulchieva represented Uzbekistan in the jury.  The Jiangsu All-Women’s Orchestra of China was crowned the winner of the Tenth International Music Festival Sharq Taronalari, and become the holders of the Grand Prix.  A cheque for US$ 10,000 was also presented to them as an appreciation.  The first prize was taken by the Japanese group Shamisen, and the second prize was shared by the Poland and Estonia. Masters of Arts from Costa Rica won the third place.  The Aykulash Yulduzlari group from Karakalpakstan was awarded a UNESCO’s special prize.

Exhibitions of national musical instruments, handicraft products and historical costumes were organized as part of the festival. The traditional scientific and practical conference on the ‘The similarity of musical cultures of the East’ aimed at seeking ways of preservation and development of the musical culture of the East.  Speaking at the conference, the UNESCO Assistant DG for External Relations and Public Information Eric Falt emphasized that the events taking place within the framework of the festival are making an invaluable contributions to the preservation of non-material cultures of human civilization. Conference participants also noted the involvement of talented representatives of the younger generation, who conduct a comprehensive research in musical art of the East, as a distinctive feature of the forum.

The forum was attended by scientists and art historians from almost 30 countries – Azerbaijan, the United Kingdom, Germany, China, South Korea, Russia, the United States and many other countries. They made interesting presentations on the history, theory, practical demonstration and prospects of musical traditions of the East, held master classes and discussions on instrumental and performance art.  The festival culminated in a big grand super-concert in which masters of arts and young performers from Uzbekistan participated.  Unique 3D-mapping illumination and the music show were the sensation of the day as the festival drew to an end.  Projected on all the three madarasas of the Registan, the illumination and the music performance was based on historical facts and events.  Music was composed by well-known composers Alisher Ikramov and Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky, and performed by the Youth Symphony Orchestra of Uzbekistan and the Sogdiana chamber orchestra.

“There will hardly be any people in the worlfad who might be happier than us at this moment … its just impossible to convey our excitement through words,” said the Jiangsu Women’s Orchestra singer Zhang Jing. “We are very happy to win the main prize of this renowned and prestigious festival. We express our sincere gratitude to President Islam Karimov for initiating a wonderful event like this, for the attention to the development of art and culture, and huge contribution to strengthening peace and harmony throughout the world. We are looking forward to performing on this beautiful stage once again. May the melodies of ‘Sharq Taronalari’ glorify the peace, friendship and kindness forever!”

“The scientific and practical conferences under the International Music Festival Sharq Taronalari help to strengthen the links between science and music education, which is an important component of nurturing a harmonious personality,” believes the President of Min-On Concert Association of Japan, Professor Hiroyasu Kobayashi. “We appreciate the work Uzbekistan has been doing on promoting the instrumental and performance arts, especially among the younger generation. The preservation of classical music traditions for future generations ranks among the key objectives of the scientific forum. It is especially symbolic that this event takes place in Samarkand, one of the key crossroads of the Silk Road, which also promoted the cultural enrichment of peoples.”

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