Bringing harmony to Bosnia

By Moris Farhi, September 19, 2008
Follow The JC on Twitter

The brilliant virtuoso violinist, Ruth Waterman, recounts in her vivid book, When Swan Lake Comes to Sarajevo (Canterbury Press, £12.99), her experiences in Bosnia from six trips between 2002 and 2006. Her title comes from a comment she heard in a city which once had exemplified the ethos of peaceful coexistence between diverse peoples: "When Swan Lake comes to Sarajevo, it will mean we are getting back to normal."

Waterman did indeed take Swan Lake to Bosnia following an invitation to work with the Mostar Sinfonietta as a vital contribution to the restoration of normality to a country that had suffered, from 1992 to 1995, a bitter fratricidal war that pitched Serbs, Croats and Muslims against each other. Creating a multi-ethnic orchestra, that would always be short of instrumentalists, required exceptional optimism, inspiration, improvisational flair and solid hard work. Waterman, well-blessed with those qualities, devoted herself to the Sinfonietta, overcame its shortcomings as a depleted ensemble, rehearsed it indefatigably and - as its guest conductor - enabled it to give concerts that attracted large audiences.

She became passionately involved with the lives of her musicians and the people in general. There are poignant insights into the sufferings of individuals who somehow survived the shelling, sniping, life amid ruins, hunger, and grief for those who had been brutally killed. Waterman excels in conveying the spirit, so evident in her musicians, that celebrates life and puts faith in the future. Bosnia still bears deep wounds, but Mostar's Old Bridge has been rebuilt to its original specifications and is now a Unesco World Heritage site; that and the Sinfonietta stand as beacons of hope for better times.

Last updated: 2:43pm, September 18 2008