"Eastern Europe does not exist", reads the first sentence of In the East, our first volume of collected reports from changing countries. A year later, the concept of Eastern Europe really seems to be outdated in many respects. We find new political and social reference systems, and the changes manifest themselves not least in the formation of new cultural territories as well. What was curiosity at the beginning has been developing into self-assertion, and in any case a cursory glance at the current programmes of European festivals and concert houses is promising. Here we would like to quote Kaspars Putnins, the director of the Latvian Radio Choir, who concludes from the current cultural and political situation in his country that, in principle, everything is possible; that it is now in the hand of those engaged in the cultural sector to build the structures that will form a good basis for exchange and collaboration as well. It should be a matter of course to also integrate into the budding networks those artists whose native countries have no chance yet to join the European Union in the next year - but here too a glance at the current European festival and music programmes raises hopes.
This book is meant to be a tool, as was the first volume; a series of snapshots, which try to give insight into the current music scenes of the portrayed countries - without claiming to be complete, yet hoping to prompt an intense discussion. As to the overlapping individual scenes and genres we want to point out that it is especially in the so-called Eastern countries where interesting alliances seem to emerge. This year the reputed Zagreb Music Biennale, for instance, invited the young Zagreb multimedia institute, mama, to organise a symposium together with a series of concerts on the theme 'Musical Constellations in the Digital Age'. This collaboration spontaneously generated another one: mama asked their friends from the Belgrade music platform CHINCH to assist in the documentation of the conference. CHINCH in turn interpreted this invitation as a stimulus, and together with mama launched the Internet music magazine Explicit Music, which not only is clearly active across genres and scenes but also tries to bundle again the creative forces of the former Yugoslavia and place them in an international context.
The project European Meridians is to serve as a model insofar as it not only portrays the interconnection between arts, politics and economy, but was only made possible by the combination of exactly these forces. It was originally boosted by Austrian Broadcasting Corporation's culturally oriented station Österreich 1, who presented a programme of specials under the title nebenan (Next Door - A Survey of Austria's Neighbours) in order to expand knowledge, according to the broadcaster's cultural assignment, and in doing so, to produce understanding for Austria's neighbours and the future members of the European Union. The Vienna-based music journal Skug offered to publish the music reports which had been broadcast in this connection on the Zeit-Ton programme (Monday through Friday, 11:05 p.m. to midnight) and thus inspired the production of the books. With the help of both the infrastructure and financial support of line_in:line_out and musikprotokoll im steirischen herbst the plan was eventually realised. Other sponsors were KulturKontakt Austria, Erste Bank, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in connection with Plattform Kultur Mitteleuropa (platform culture central europe) and the Wien Modern festival. The latter sponsor also proposed the present title of the project, European Meridians.
Each of the twelve countries which we visited over the last two and half years impressed us with its own personal music scenes, revealed its own personal artistic and cultural climate, and told its own personal history. In this connection we again would like to refer to the preface of the first book: Hungary and Croatia were not part of the Ottoman Empire to the same extent as were Bulgaria or Serbia, Czechoslovakia and Poland were part of the Eastern bloc, but not of the Soviet Union, as were Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, where the people faced different social conditions than the people of Slovenia and Croatia, which were formerly part of bloc-free Yugoslavia. Slovenia, the Baltic states, and the Czech Republic will soon be admitted to the European Union, which you can't say about some other countries of this region with the same confidence. And actually prior to all this is what some Slovakian musicians from Bratislava very intently and proudly call the "genius loci", the ingenuity of the vernacular, a kind of regional driving force for fantasy and resistance.
There is another aspect that makes us return to the first book: it is enough to look at the index to realise that the music life in the portrayed countries is predominantly in the hands of men. Not that it is any different in the 'West', it is nevertheless not very good news. But the observations we made during our visit to Bucharest revealed a fascinating picture in this connection. Starting with Miriam Marbe we have an impressive succession of several generations of composers: Adriana Hölszky and Violeta Dinescu are known not least because they have relocated to the West; living and working in Bucharest are Irina Hasnas, Maia Ciobanu, Mihaela Vosganian, Ana-Maria Avram, and Irinel Anghel, who in the meantime is active and very successful both in the areas of composition and improvisation. Mihaela Vosganian explains that in Romania they grew up with the conception that women and men are supported equally. Only when she was asked several times, even by the president of the organisation Donne in Musica (Women in Music), why in Romania there was not a platform especially for women, she made up her mind to establish one, yet emphasised that she didn't want to stop at women in music, but focus on women in art, for a multimedia approach would correspond better to the Romanian approach to art.
Romania as a country where the music life is shaped by many inspired women is not an isolated phenomenon. In Serbia, too, the presence of women in cultural fields is amazing, and they are also active in organisations and institutes, developing programmes and working in music theory. Today, in times where structures are formed anew, perhaps new roles and reference systems will also develop in the so-called East, which (in turn) could serve as a model for the West as well.
Susanna Niedermayr / Translation: Friederike Kulcsar