Romanian artists, headliners, in many a circumstance, have been performing internationally for a long time. Still, it seems plausible that you have attended concerts, operas or ballets without knowing they’re Romanian. Clearly, many have heard of Romania’s greatest composer George Enescu or worldwide famous conductor Sergiu Celibidache, but it’s time we met some of the contemporary performers.
The most glamorous opera star, as she was hailed by the press, Angela Gheorghiu (b. 1965) is one of the leading voices in opera today and probably one of the most renowned Romanian artists ever. The soprano trained at the Music Academy in Bucharest and made an acclaimed international debut in 1992, at London’s Royal Opera House, as Mimì in La bohème. From there she went on to perform leading roles—Violetta, Tosca, Juliette, Adriana Lecouvreur, to name only a few—in the most prestigious opera houses and concert halls around the world.
Principal dancer at the English National Ballet, Alina Cojocaru (b. 1981) started training first as a gymnast, before giving herself completely to ballet, at the age of 9. She trained in Bucharest, Kiev, and London and became a principal dancer at the The Royal Ballet at only 19. Often dancing along her fiancee, Danish dancer and choreographer Johann Kobborg, Alina’s roles range from the classics such as Odette / Odile in Swan Lake or Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, to the more unusual version of Giselle, envisioned by Akram Khan in 2016.
Illustrious piano player Radu Lupu (b. 1945) hardly needs an introduction, having enjoyed an outstandingly successful career. He started piano at 6, made his public debut at 12, playing his own compositions, and continued his piano training at the Music Academy in Bucharest. Winning multiple prestigious competitions in the 60’s brought him critical acclaim and since then he’s been performing and touring all across the globe. Sadly, the Romanian artist recently announced his retirement, due to frail health, but one can always hope for the occasional concert.
Born in Romania in 1960, Ion Marin defected the communist regime and established himself in Vienna in 1986. Son of Constantin Marin, also a musician and conductor of the renowned Madrigal choir, Ion studied music composition, conducting and piano in both Romania and Austria. In 1988 he became resident conductor at the Vienna State Opera and has since conducted some of the most prestigious orchestras in the world.
Born in Timișoara in 1980, Cristian started his music education by studying violin. He studied in Romania and United States, becoming, at only 19, the youngest concertmaster in the history of the Miami Symphony Orchestra. While furthering his education at Rice University, Cristian showed enthusiasm for conducting and started developing this interest. His conducting career started flourishing in 2012 and starting with September 2020 he became musical director of Orchestre national de France. He also received his first Grammy in 2020 for conducting the Decca Classics recording of Wynton Marsalis’ Violin Concerto with Nicola Benedetti and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Romanian-born pianist Dana Ciocârlie (b.1968) lives in France, where she also teaches at the Lyon Conservatory and École normale de Paris. She started studying piano in Bucharest and completed her training in Paris. Along playing classical pieces, she has also premiered various contemporary works written especially for her. In 2017 she released one of her most accomplished projects so far, the complete Schumann piano works, recorded live in 15 concerts in Paris, between 2012 and 2016.
Violinist and violist Alexander Bălănescu (b. 1954) is the leader of the Balanescu String Quartet, a group that crosses the boundary between classical and popular music. Classically trained at Trinity College in London and Juilliard in NY, Alexander decided early in his career that he does not want to acknowledge divisions between musical fields. Subsequently, his collaborations are always visionary and surprising: from Pina Bausch and Meryl Tankard in dance, to Matthew Dunster in theatre, to Kraftwerk, Pet Shop Boys, David Byrne, and many others in music.
Bass-baritone Sorin Coliban (b. 1976) graduated his musical studies at the Music Academy in Bucharest in 1995 and improved his technique further, in Italy. He started his international career very soon after graduation with the title role of Mozart’s Don Giovanni and has since performed in the most prestigious concert halls under the baton of many distinguished conductors. In 2009 Coliban joined the Vienna State Opera and has appeared in productions of La bohème, Rigoletto, Don Carlos, Lucia di Lammermoor, and many others.
Violinist and violist Clara Cernat (b. 1972) made her debut at 15 as a soloist with the Arad Symphonic Orchestra. She studied at the Music Academy in Bucharest and furthered her education in Germany and Switzerland. Nowadays she tours worldwide with her husband, composer and piano player, Thierry Huillet, and also teaches at the Toulouse Conservatory.
Of a somewhat different style, but equally talented and hardworking, the musicians of Fanfare Ciorcârlia don’t have any formal training, but they sure do fill concert halls all over the world and are considered important and valuable contemporary Romanian artists. The brass band, which used to play weddings and baptisms, was discovered in 1996 by a German sound engineer who was looking for original sounds. All members are from Zece Prăjini, a Romani village in northeastern Romania, famous for its musicianship. Their music is catchy, mixing Romani tunes with Romanian folklore and Balkan influences.
Updated in December 2020.
Featured image: Providence Doucet / Unsplash