West Coast Symphony departs for Albanian adventure
Music is an international language.
So when 34 members of the West Coast Symphony Orchestra play a special Canada Day concert in Tirana, Albania, they won't need a translator. Their instruments will do the talking.
The orchestra, which is comprised of more than 80 musicians from around the Lower Mainland and conducted by Bujar Llapaj of New Westminster, embarks Friday for a two-week goodwill tour of Albania and Macedonia, sharing the camaraderie of music through a series of six concerts in the Balkan countries. They'll also hold master classes for young musicians.
It's a homecoming for Llapaj and his partner, violinist Lindita Musaraj, who emigrated from Albania nine years ago.
"People share music in the same way," says Musaraj, whose love for music was forged as a child when she accompanied her mother to the opera in Tirana. "I can communicate perfectly with anybody with music."
The West Coast Symphony Orchestra isn't a professional group, although many of its more than 80 members earn their living teaching music, or as freelance session players. There are also teachers, doctors, a longshoreman and even a supreme court judge.
"We do it for the love of music," says Burnaby's Jim DeFina, a clarinetist and also the orchestra's vice president. "Our mission is to present high quality programs at a low cost."
In fact, their 14 annual concerts are free or with admission by donation to support their costs. When they get to Albania their magnanimity will take on a further dimension.
In preparing for the their trip, the orchestra's musicians have been mining their own collections of instruments and acquiring used ones from rental programs to be donated to a new music school being started in Llapaj's home village, Antigone, in southern Albania, near the Antigonia archeological site which dates to the third century BC.
A container of almost 30 saxophones, clarinets, flutes, violins and even a cello was shipped last week.
"It's just a beginning," says Musaraj of the donation. "It's like a little precious treasury."
One she hopes will enrich the lives and perhaps create opportunities for the children of families scrabbling out an existence raising sheep and crops in the ancient hillside community.
"These kids have never had access to these kinds of instruments," says Musaraj, whose partner has been in Albania for the past month, laying the groundwork for the tour and visit to the school.
The veteran musicians of the orchestra also expect the experience will enliven their own love for music.
"It's like a whole new breath, my heart is pounding" says DeFina. He expects they'll have a better understanding of the school's further needs once they've had a chance to visit and conduct some lessons.
"I hope this will also help open the door of knowledge about Albania to Canadians," says Musarej.