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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 April 2007, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
La Scala brings Beethoven to Ghana
By David Willey
BBC Rome correspondent, in Ghana

Wind section, La Scala orchestra
The prestigious orchestra were flown over from Milan

Italy's famous La Scala orchestra has played in sub-Saharan Africa for the first time.

The venue: Accra's 1,400 seat ultra-modern National Theatre.

The occasion: celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Ghana's independence.

The cast: Daniel Barenboim and 160 members of the orchestra and chorus of Milan's La Scala.

The programme: Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the Choral, whose Ode to Joy has become the official anthem of the European Union.


The evening began in an unusual way, with the beating of a traditional tribal drum, a traditional Ghanaian welcome.

It ended with a standing ovation for the prestigious orchestra and their equally famous conductor.

A member of the Ghanaian organising committee told me he remembered having music appreciation lessons at school 50 years ago, when Ghana was still a British colony, but he could not remember any similar event in his lifetime.

Drummer, Ghana
La Scala orchestra and chorus were given a warm welcome

Most of the audience were invited to attend, with the few hundred tickets actually put on sale costing betweeen US $30-50, well beyond the reach of the pockets of the average Ghanaian.

In sub-Saharan Africa, 60 per cent of people live on less than two US dollars per day. So, unsurprisingly, the auditorium was packed with local officials and diplomats.

A quick trawl around Accra's teeming markets confirmed earlier suspicions - that the Ghanaian capital completely lacks CD shops selling classical music.

While African faces on the crowded stage were limited to two, one the African-American bass-baritone Kevin Deas, and the other, the soprano Measha Brueggergosman, a Canadian national.

The impact of the music on those lucky enough to be present was, however, electric.

Daniel Barenboim, the musicians and the four soloists (who included La Scala newcomer and rising British star, tenor Ian Storey) gave their all. They had time for only a single reahearsal, but their performance was impeccable.

Daniel Barenboim
Barenboim's became La Scala's principal conductor last year

Barenboim told me during rehearsal: "The problem is, you cannot articulate the content of music in words. This can only be expressed through sound. This is what I hope we are bringing to them."

This extraordinary event was the result of a casual invitation to Daniel Barenboim in New York last December by Ghana's highest-profile international figure, Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General and a friend of La Scala's new 'maestro' conductor.

The president of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, and the Mayor of Milan, Letizia Moratti, also helped to make Kofi Annan's dream come true.

Spirited rendition

Annan was beaming afterwards at the Ghanaian President's post-concert party in Accra's State Banqueting Hall.

"In international affairs, you have to learn how to create pillars and foundations in order to realise dreams," he said.

At the post-concert party some of La Scala's violin players playfully took over from a local Accra orchestra, giving a spirited rendition of Guantanamara.

Street scene in Ghana
Classical music is not easily found in the streets of Accra

But was it really worth the vast expense ($500,000) to charter an Airbus and fly this huge and talented company 6,000 miles across the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara desert to Ghana, and back, for a single Beethoven performance?

Barenboim says emphatically 'yes'. He would like to return to Africa, either with La Scala or to give a series of solo piano recitals in various African countries.

The former child prodigy, who has replaced Riccardo Muti as conductor at La Scala, and who built up the now famous West-East Divan orchestra of Israeli and Palestinian musicians, believes music may hold the key to bridging the North-South cultural, and even economic, divide.

"You have to listen to the other players if you want to play in an orchestra," he said.

La Scala opera house, Milan
Ghana marked a dramatic change of scene for La Scala's musicians

But as one of the first violins in the orchestra whispered to me as we were flying back high over the Sahara desert, while she had enjoyed this unique experience, she was not so sure that a charity concert in Milan to raise money for Ghana might not have been preferable.

The audience shouted for more after the Accra concert, but a performance of this quality of Beethoven's Ninth hardly lends itself to an encore.

Now we shall have to see whether Daniel Barenboim's ambitious dream of stimulating a demand for classical music in Africa is going to be fulfilled.

It will require a lot of money, and a lot of politics. The encore is not yet assured.

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