Seven years ago the western classical music festival in Phnom Penh, which featured Cambodian musicians playing alongside foreign guest artists, was a novelty.
The general public knew little of Cambodians who were making a career as violinists or pianists rather than playing traditional instruments.
The first International Music Festival attracted 500 people in 2004, said festival organizer Anton Isselhardt of the Artplus Foundation.
In 2009, the audience had grown to 1,100, and up to 1,800 people are expected at this year’s event starting on Thursday, he said.
“As in the case of many things that are new, it takes time to develop,” Mr Isselhardt said. “More and more Cambodian people come to the concerts to listen to the music and also to see Cambodians play…. And the number of Cambodian musicians increases every year.”
The Seventh International Music Festival will kick off with a gala concert given by the Trio Thaleia from Germany, and end on Sept 27 with Cambodia’s foremost western classical musicians, including cellist Cheak Bunly and violinists Uy Thach and Mao Samnang, performing as part of the Workshop-Festival Orchestra.
The six-day event will also include performances by Japanese pianist Miki Aoki; soprano Nam-joo Lee and pianist Hye-jin Lee of South Korea; and the 60-musician Angkor Youth Orchestra.
This year’s festival will be on the theme of Inspiration and Transformation, Mr Isselhardt said at a press conference on Tuesday.
The music selected will show how 19th- and early 20th-century composers were inspired by folklore and traditional music in their work, something also happening in Cambodia, where some Western classical music composers integrate traditional instruments into their creations, he explained.
Opportunities for Cambodian musicians to perform continue to be far too rare, said composer Sam-Ang Sam of Pannasastra University. This festival gives them the chance to do so and to gain concert experience with international artists, he said at the press conference.
Most concerts will take place at the Cambodia Japan Cooperation Center on the campus of the Institute of Foreign Languages. Admission is free.