Northern Athens enjoy warm atmosphere
Michal Kleofas Oginski’s mansion in Zalesie is operating as a centre of culture and tourism
Zalesie to become new cultural and tourist centre of Belarus
Just a few years ago, Michal Kleofas Oginski’s mansion in Zalesie (near Smorgon) was in a state of neglect. The favourite house of our outstanding countryman — which attracted artistic personalities and was once proudly called the ‘Northern Athens’ — left the impression that it might soon be renamed as the ‘Northern Ruins’. However, we can now assert that the mansion has been saved and is operating as a centre of culture and tourism. The recent musical festival, the Year of Oginski in Zalesie, was a fitting tribute to the composer’s work.
2015 is the Year of Oginski, as declared by UNESCO, marking the 250th anniversary of the great man’s birth; 200 years ago, the composer’s mansion was built in Zalesie, becoming a hub for musicians and artists not only from Belarusian lands but for all Europe. The first concert to be hosted by the site was Oginski’s Musical Treasures, with Vytoki band entertaining guests from Minsk, Molodechno and Smorgon. International laureate Alexey Frolov (fagotto) joined Sergey Makhov (flute) and Irina Avdeeva (piano forte) in opening the festival, playing Michal Kleofas Oginski’s G-major Polonaise, followed by works composed by Karol Oginski, Michal Kazimir and other members of the famous and talented family.
Some might think that these rare and little known pieces are valuable only to specialists, since the Oginskis were amateur musicians rather than professional composers. However, the Zalesie festival aims to recreate the chamber and spiritual atmosphere which reigned in this ‘Northern Athens’. The hall, 200 years ago, gathered both amateur musicians and famous singers and composers: a talent to rival the greatest concert halls of today.
Oginski Year in Zalesie begins with concert by Vytoki band soloists
The festival audience so eagerly anticipated listening to Oginski’s polonaise that they quite ‘demanded’ it to be played. Kleofas’ famous Farewell to Homeland inspired a standing reception, accompanied by some tears and, of course, a riot of final applause.
Zalesie mansion has been restored in a relatively short period and may yet become one of the Belarusian major tourist brands, rivalling Mir and Nesvizh. All work has been carried out by Belarusian specialists, with the restoration process involving construction organisations from Smorgon; the 19th century furniture has also been restored by Belarusian specialists, as Tatiana Kleshchenok explains. The junior research assistant at the museum-mansion tells us that few of Michal Kleofas’ possessions remain, obliging items to be purchased at auction. Some truly reflect the spirit of the age. Meanwhile, the house now has nine hotel rooms, including bed linen, suitable for those wishing to stay overnight. “We receive many such requests,” she explains.
The newly restored rooms, smelling of lacquer and wood, lack many exhibits as of now, but the local greenhouse has supplied cheese plants, dragon-trees and bright phalenopsis to fill empty spaces. Eventually, a café will open, and the house will gradually be filled with more artefacts. By September; there should be a complete collection. Newly-weds are already heading to its apple orchard with their photographers, admiring the beautiful and romantic setting.
By Irina Ovsepyan