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Just a few years ago, Michal Kleofas Oginski’s mansion in Zalesie (near Smorgon) was in a state of neglect.

Northern Athens enjoy warm atmosphere

Just a few years ago, Michal Kleofas Oginski’s mansion in Zalesie (near Smorgon) was in a state of neglect.
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.

Year of Oginski in Zalesie Festival begins with concert by Vytoki band soloists

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 amateur musicians and famous singers and composers alike: talent to rival the greatest concert halls of today.

The festival audience so eagerly anticipated hearing 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 to become new cultural and tourist centre of Belarus

Zalesie mansion has been restored in a relatively short period of time and may yet become one of Belarus’ 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; 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 the night. “We receive many such requests,” she explains.

The newly restored rooms, smelling of lacquer and wood, lack many exhibits as yet, but a 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 fill 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

Photo by Pavel Chuyko
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