By Viktar Korbut
In early June, the 14th International Cembalos and Accordions Are Ringing Festival attracted over a hundred musicians, dancers and singers from Belarus, Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and China, in addition to an ensemble from an Arabian settlement in Israel’s Golan Heights.
The festival is over 200 years old and was initially hosted by Vitebsk and Mogilev. Over the course of time, it moved to Postavy, as the village of Gruzdovo is situated nearby, where masters making cembalos have lived for centuries. Their musical instruments are diatonic, making them rare. The craftsmen passed their skills from one generation to the next, creating highly prized cembalos. In the 1980s, the Gruzdovo Cembalo Orchestra made a name for itself in the Soviet Union, with its talented members often performing on TV and radio, or giving concerts at the USSR’s largest venues. The present folk festival originated from those ‘provincial’ talents and is now among the biggest in Eastern Europe.
Alla Keizik, the Deputy Chair of the Postavy District Executive Committee, proudly admits that Gruzdovo melodies — including her favourite wedding songs — have been performed by the best Belarusian bands. Among them have been the I. Zhinovich National Academic People’s Orchestra (led by Mikhail Kozinets, who prepared sheet music six months before the festival) and leading folk ensembles from the Vitebsk Region.
Deputy Culture Minister Tadeush Struzhetsky helped organise the Cembalos and Accordions Are Ringing Festival and stresses its special significance, “Such festivals seriously inspire the development of regions where true Belarusian traditions are still observed. In the 1980s, folk culture was perceived to be dying. Now, it’s clear that an increasing number of young people choose to learn traditional instruments. Youngsters can also learn cembalo and duda making; original musical culture could hardly be imagined without these instruments. We can now relax, as this art will never disappear. UNESCO has been paying special attention to our folk customs in recent years. In the twenty five years since our festival was first organised, Belarusian folk legacy has gained recognition both domestically and abroad. This is a sign of the times: however paradoxical it may seem, globalisation is helping promote our traditions worldwide. The diverse international representation at the Postravy holiday confirms this.”
Discussing the results of the festival with Ms. Keizik, we realise that it is more than a mere international show of folk arts; it is a fully fledged holiday of regional culture. It echoes far beyond the sounds of cembalos and accordions in the Postavy District. This year, the 225th anniversary of the birth of Konstantin Tizengauz was marked on the steps of his early 19th century manor. At the age of 18, Konstantin entered Vilno University, being fond of zoology. However, the 1812 War interrupted his scientific studies. Tizengauz fought on the side of Napoleon and, in 1813, was awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honour. A year later, he returned home, building a manor in Postavy. He spent the rest of his life studying birds and becoming a founder of Belarusian ornithology. Tizengauz conducted his studies in Belarus while also travelling to the Carpathian mountains, Bessarabia, the Black Sea coast, Paris, Dresden, Milan and Venice in pursuit of bird life.
Tizengauz’s Postavy manor now houses a hospital but some of its rooms are open to tourists. Famous Khoroshki ensemble prepared a special programme dedicated to the scientist, with boys and girls in national costume carrying torches dancing to the accompaniment of ancient music. Postavy’s residents and guests were transported two centuries back. Tizengauz’s ornithological traditions continue in the area, with a farm near Postavy breeding ostriches (unique in Belarus). People from all over the country and, even, abroad come to see them.
Over twenty years ago, the cembalo sounded a new page in the history of Postavy. Today, the town is known as one of Belarus’ festival capitals and as a major tourist centre, worth visiting in any season.