The Baalbeck Festival, between East and West

Between the 9 dancers, actors, musicians make the trip to Baalbeck, an ancient city located 90 km east of Beirut, in Liban to celebrate performing arts and music. Since its creation in 1956 (despite an interruption of more than twenty years because of the civil war), the festival has harmoniously combined opera, chamber music, musicals, traditional dance and world music. A diversity which today makes the identity of this festival.

A highly symbolic site

Baalbeck is one of the best preserved Roman sites in the world. The place has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984. This Phoenician city, built between the XNUMXst and XNUMXnd century AD, and where the worship of a divine triad was celebrated ( Jupiter, Bacchus and Venus), took the name of Heliopolis in the Greek era. It retained its religious function in Roman times and for centuries. The last millennium has been particularly devastating, as the region has been affected four times by violent earthquakes. The city was partially destroyed, but French, German and Lebanese archaeologists have undertaken excavations and restoration work there for several years.
It is the dramatic side of the place that gave the idea, in 1922, to a small group of Franco-Lebanese to come and recite verses. But it was not until the 1950s that the first theatrical performances saw the light of day in Baalbeck. The undoubted success of these performances kicked off the creation of the festival. Measures were taken at the initiative of the then President of the Lebanese Republic, Camille Chamoun. We have to find funds, establish a general policy and define the objectives to be achieved. The first edition of the Baalbeck festival was held in 1956: it was Jean Cocteau, who came to present his Infernal Machine, who inaugurated it.

Lebanese cultural influence

If this festival has an international vocation, it is also an opportunity to promote the Lebanese performing arts. Starting with the theater: The Emigré de Brisbane by Georges Schéhadé, which was presented during the 1966 edition, will be performed on 23 and 24, between the temples of Jupiter and Bacchus. The new version of this piece in nine tables is directed by Nabil Azan, translated into Arabic by Issa Makhlouf and set to music by Zad Moultaka.
On August 13, 14 and 15, a Lebanese musical tale, The Voyage of the Four Songs by Michel Eleftériadès, will take place in the temple of Jupiter. These songs, which are part of the Lebanese heritage, since according to legend, they were born from the mouth of a shepherd on the steps of the temples of Baalbeck. Since then, they have traveled from the Balkans to Spain, via Cuba, enriching themselves with new instruments and new rhythms.
Lebanese music will also be well represented with Rabih Abou Khalil, master of the oud (kind of lute) and renowned jazzman who will move the temple of Bacchus on August 20 and 21. He returns this year, accompanied by Gabriel Mirabassi on clarinet, Luciano Biondini on accordion, Gavino Murgia on vocals and Jarod Gagwin on drums to perform his latest album, Morton's foot, a mix between jazzy rhythm and oriental music.
Every year, a symphony orchestra makes the trip to Baalbeck. After training from Armenia, France, Germany or the United States, a Lebanese group will play on August 6 at the temple of Jupiter. Whalid Gholmieh will conduct this symphony orchestra which will pay tribute to Gabriel Saad, composer and founding member of the festival, who died in 2003. The musicians will also perform works by Berlioz, Brahms and Vivaldi.

Varied melodies at the temples of Jupiter and Bacchus

This year again, the diversity of genres is at the rendezvous on the decibel side! The Brazilian troupe Grupo Corpo will inaugurate the festivities on July 9 and 10 on the platform of the Temple of Jupiter. Their show is a mix of classical ballet, Brazilian folklore and street dance. On July 16, American saxophonist Jackie McLean will be the first to set foot on the floor of the temple of Bacchus. Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus and Miles Davis have played during the fifty-year career of this great name in bebop. In Baalbeck, he will be accompanied by his son René on tenor saxophone, Eric McPherson on drums, Alan Jay Palmer on piano and Nat Reeves on cello. On July 18, at the temple of Jupiter and in front of nearly 5 people, Massive Attack will take the stage for a very high-tech concert mixing powerful bass and psychedelic lights. A first for the festival. It is also the first time that this English group, pioneer of “trip hop” will make the trip to Lebanon. On July 000 and 30, it is the sound of the wadaiko, a traditional Japanese drum, which will resound in this same temple of Jupiter with the Osaka Dadada-dan Tenko troupe. A superb show between tradition and modernity.
The opera is not left out, since the great Spanish tenor Placido will be performing on August 8 at the Temple of Jupiter, accompanied by the national symphony orchestra, this time conducted by Eugène Kohn. Finally, to close this 27th edition, Il Giardino Armonico, a baroque ensemble of fourteen musicians founded in 1985 in Milan by Giovanni Antonini, will perform on August 27 works by Handel, Vivaldi, Locatelli and Bach on the platform of the temple of Bacchus.


Civil war obliges, the Baalbeck festival experienced a long period of interruption between 1973 and 1997. Today, Hezbollah, a fundamentalist Shiite political party, has made the Bekaa, Baalbeck region, its bastion. Despite a certain tolerance, he nonetheless expresses a “passive resistance” to shows inspired by Western cultures foreign to radical Shiism. On July 9, at the opening, he will parade in front of the entrance to the ancient city. But this presence does not worry the festival committee too much.
Without a doubt, the Baalbeck festival should once again be a great success. The organizers expect more than 30 spectators.

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