(Article written for IAWM – Vol. I June 1995 )

I was invited to talk about my compositions at the Academy of Music in Tirana, and Gilberto Serembe, my companion, about conducting. I met several composers and a few conductors. They are opening up to new experiences after having been cut off from the rest of the world for 50 years. They are mainly interested in Avante-garde music and the younger ones obviously prefer to forget their traditional folklore (which I think is a pity) and cannot yet conceive Neo-Tonality. The Tirana Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra is a decent orchestra by Italian standards but not by American or British standards. A strange thing is that they don’t have a harp. This is because there is no harp school whatsoever in the whole of Albania. They managed to find a contrabassoon and a bass clarinet for me but (similarly to all the other instruments of the orchestra) they were of poor manufacture. They also have no clarinet in Eb and no xylophone, vibraphone and other percussion, so these had to be substituted with someone’s private synthesizer. They couldn’t move the piano into the concert hall for just my piece, so another synthesizer had to be used. It was a very good orchestra 3 years ago. Now a lot of the best musicians have found work abroad. They played Bruckner’s 5th better than my work “La Triade”. It was the first time that anything of Bruckner was performed in Albania. They, however, lack the culture as well as a certain technique to play well works that are unknown to them. Other composers which were not allowed till 1990 were Mahler, the School of Vienna, contemporary composers and anything religious like Mozart’s Requiem…..!!! Incredible !!! Apparently, however, they play classics such as Tchaikowsky very well indeed. They find it difficult to obtain the classics that are not the usual repertoire. They don’t have the money to pay for scores and parts so they copy them all by hand since labour is very cheap. I am reasonably satisfied with the performance of my work; more or less what it would have been if it had been performed in Italy (though with all the instruments). Poor Gilberto dreams about other Bruckner performances, though he realizes he shouldn’t judge this orchestra too harshly, knowing their circumstances. A recording was made in their rather old-fashioned equipped studio. The TV also made a video of the concert. Admittedly they are not very good. The building that hosts the Radio and its orchestra (and all that is inside it) is in a terribly filthy and crumbling condition. The instrumentalists have to work in poor and difficult circumstances too. It is actually not like going back 50 years. It is worse. There is great poverty and everything is in bad condition since the fall of the dictatorship in 1990. Apparently, though there was no freedom since 1946 after the Germans had gone, the appearance of Tirana was that of a well kept city. Now it is in a dreadful state; everything is falling to pieces. People are still frightened to speak, though they are now free to set up their own businesses (usually tiny street stalls, of which there are hundreds) and to travel abroad, if they have the rare opportunity of doing so. I personally think there is still some hidden control of their freedom. When Albanians are able to put away some money, the first thing they buy is the TV, then the satellite, then the refrigerator and finally the washing machine. Thus, it is astounding to see dreadful crumbling houses with washing all hanging out on the balconies, each one of which with a Sharp satellite dish antenna. TV is their only form of amusement, though the electricity goes away in parts of Tirana almost every day. A lot of people do not have a telephone and those who do sometimes get cut off for days on end, including the Radio Orchestra offices! There are no public telephones in the streets. The one public telephone post we went to had four cabins… but only one line! Many public offices and shops are painted light turquoise (a favourite Islamic colour) which is usually peeling away. The streets are in such a bad condition, full of mud and large holes (in which people continually fall and break legs particularly at night since there is hardly any street illumination), that one has to scrape and clean ones shoes and trousers every day if it rains or dust ones self if it doesn’t. There were hardly any cars before 1990. Some traffic lights have just been put in the centre of Tirana. Cars are confused and bicycles and pedestrians don’t even pay attention to them, nor to the traffic wardens who whistle and wave furiously. There was religious persecution under the dictatorship, so most churches, monasteries and mosques were destroyed. We saw a couple of beautiful 14th century monasteries and one mosque built in 1789 and it is horrifying to think of the other great works of art that were destroyed by this one madman called Enver Hoshja. He executed people with flame throwers. He confined others to years of imprisonment or in tiny villages and obliged their relatives and friends to r enounce them in public and also in writing. Just fancy a father having to sign a paper in which he renounces his son !!! I know a musician who passed through partly similar circumstances. For 6 years he could hardly speak to anyone and all his friends avoided him for fear of being persecuted in turn. A Minister of Agriculture was confined for 5 years because he exchanged a load of tomatoes with one of bananas, considered a capitalist fruit. Bananas are now sold in many street corners. Holes in the ground are not the only thing one must look out for…..I could go on with a lot of other stories.