THE SOUND OF FRIENDSHIP
After the 1989 Romanian Revolution
By John Gritten, Director and Honorary Secretary of LSP
In the big gymnasium of the Iasi No. 2 Centre for Physically Handicapped Girls, a handful of those steadier on their legs held up the music in front of the standing string players, woodwind and horns who had come 1,300 miles to entertain them. These were 20 members of the London Schubert Players, the first British orchestra- certainly since the Christmas revolution and probably the first ever from London – to visit Romania.
The LSP was making a charity concert tour to raise funds for the disabled children and orphans. Iasi No. 2 has 780 girls with ages ranging from six to 20 – all of them with some physical disability, though among the hundreds who poured into the gym for the LSP’s mini-concert, this was not obvious.
This was an occasion of great excitement for these children and teenagers, a chattering, well-behaved throng, motley dressed, many poorly shod. Through sign language and the help of staff, a dozen girls, some shy at being the centre of attention, were persuaded to hold up the music; a semicircle two-deep sat on the wooden floor, the rest of the audience standing behind them.
Seconds before the orchestra struck up the first bar of the lively veloce movement of Romanian composer Constantin Silvestri’s Three Pieces for Strings, the chatter had subsided and been replaced by expectant attention. There was no doubt about the spontaneity of the applause as the last note died away.
Meanwhile, non-playing “Friends of the London Schubert Players” from Paris and London who had accompanied the orchestra to give moral support to this charity tour, unpacked the gifts the players had brought with them from the UK and laid them out on gym mattresses for display. These had been specifically asked for by Iasi No. 2’s director, Elena Ivas: blankets, warm clothing for sub-zero winters with no or scant heating, hundreds of cups and mugs, cutlery and toys.
The concert over, the children seemed hesitant at approaching these gifts and only by repeated come-hither gestures and actually putting teddy-bears and dolls into their arms, was the initial shyness broken down. Ignorance of each other’s language was no barrier and friendships were quickly struck up between the players – all in their 20s – and the girls; names and addresses were exchanged.
Later, from two sources in Bucharest, we were given the astonishing figure of 800,000 as the total number of babies, children and young people housed in centres like Iasi No. 2, of whom 40,000 are said to be handicapped. From lists, we saw the details of 49 such centres, giving shelter to 21,000 disabled children, while another 211 orphanages had 45,000 residents. These were young victims of Ceausescu’s insane ambition to force up Romania’s 23 million population to 30 million while reducing it to subsistence and, for many, starvation levels.
The tour was made possible with the help of Total Oil, Eagle Star Insurance, baring Brothers and the Leeds-based Ring Group of Companies. But it had to be cut from 16 public concerts to six: in Bucharest, Iasi, Brasov, Bacau, Galati and Botosani, the proceeds from each to be donated to the Bucharest No. 10 Centre for Boys.
With financial assistance from the Spastics Society and the Relief Fund for Romania, the tour’s final concert in Bucharest’s Athenaeum Hall was recorded by Electrecord. The record – Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 K414 and Silvestri’s Three Pieces – will be transported by Tarom free of charge to the UK, where it will be sold, as well as overseas, in aid of disabled children both here and in Romania.
The record will be launched at the LSP’s concert in the Artaud Theatre in the French Institute, South Kensington, on November 30 where there will also be an exhibition of photographs by Tom Ang of the Romanian tour and of paintings and sketches by the Australian artist Jamie Boyd who also accompanied it.