Classical music alert:
A German tobacco company is bringing a 50-piece orchestra to Phnom Penh next month for a single concert that will feature works by Beethoven and Mozart.
Tickets for the May 21 performance go on sale Monday at the Hotel Le Royal, where the concert will be held. The hotel can seat only 350 guests, but, with tickets at $25 a pop, that may not be a problem.
Organizers concede the price is a bit steep for the average Cambodian.
“We only [have time for] one performance, but we will give the television stations a tape of the concert, so they can broadcast it and people can see and hear it for free,” said Francis Phua, marketing manager for Reemtsma International Far East Ltd.
Reemtsma, of Hamburg, Germany, recently became the majority stockholder of Cambodia’s Paradise Tobacco, which manufactures Wat Phnom cigarettes.
Reemtsma manufactures Davidoff cigarettes, which, according to the glossy press packet handed out to more than 50 reporters, are “synonymous with good living, quality leisure pursuits and style and elegance in all activities.”
Phrases like that were liberally sprinkled throughout the press conference, along with video images of upscale people enjoying cigarettes as smoke spiraled sinuously through the air.
For decades, tobacco companies have used ads to link cigarettes with the good life, to devastating effect. As scientists in developed nations uncovered tobacco’s role in heart disease, emphysema and lung cancer, tobacco companies began advertising more heavily in the Third World.
In 1995, health officials denounced the advertising efforts. World Health Organization officials said that $200 billion is spent annually on tobacco; if that money were freed up, it could double health budgets in developing nations.
A 1998 study by the WHO and Ministry of Health showed that nearly half of the street advertising in Phnom Penh was for cigarettes, and that 70 percent of adult Cambodian males smoke. If nothing changes, the study noted, 73,500 Cambodians will die from the effects of smoking between 1998-2008.
The Davidoff orchestra, made up of musicians from more than 40 countries, was formed in 1992 as the Philharmonia of the Nations. Organizers say it evolved out of a friendship between founder and conductor Justus Franz and the late American conductor, Leonard Bernstein.
The orchestra tours once a year. Its first two stops this year will be in China, in Beijing on May 17 and Shanghai on May 19; later performances are scheduled for Prague, Moscow, Warsaw and Kiev.
Organizers said they were sorry that no Cambodian musicians would be playing in this concert, but that they hoped to include local artists in future engagements.
Conductor Franz is very excited to be visiting Phnom Penh, the promoters said. “Cambodia is a mystery to many people, and steeped in history,” he said in a statement.
He said he is sure the world understands the message behind the concerts, which are performed by musicians from many countries—some of whom are at war.
“What holds true for music also holds true in politics and society—harmony can only exist when different voices are heard.”
Prince Sisowath Panara Sirivudh, secretary of state for the Ministry of Culture, spoke movingly of Cambodia’s past devotion to the arts and how hard artists are working to regain their skills.
King Norodom Sihanouk founded the Royal University of Fine Arts in 1950, he said, and by 1960 a professional orchestra had formed.
“Unfortunately, from that time on, many musicians and professors were killed, or are now too old to perform,” he said. The university was reestablished in 1980, and has been working to regain the skills and sophistication lost during the years of war.
He said he hoped that “in future, if such events take place, Cambodian musicians will take part.”
Then Reemtsma officials presented the prince with a gift: a towering basket containing cookies, wine, and beautifully packaged packs of cigarettes.