“My parents arrived in France with two suitcases in 2016, five years after the start of the war, Vauvenargues has turned into a wonderful welcoming place. I wanted to use my language, which is classical music, to convey to this village of 1,000 inhabitants what he gave to my family, by organizing a festival there with great artists,” Bilal Alnemr told AFP.
At the foot of the Sainte-Victoire mountain painted by Cézanne, near the castle where Pablo Picasso is buried, the classical notes of German composers Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) and Félix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) will resonate, as well as Arabic melodies, like the Syrian sonata number 2 in A minor by the musician of Iraqi origin Solhi Alwadi (1934-2007), interpreted by renowned soloists and the New Symphony Orchestra of the country of Aix-en-Provence.
The musician Wahed Bouhassoun, who has often accompanied Jordi Savall, will also perform on the oud poetic songs from the region of Bilal’s parents, in southern Syria.
Bilal Alnemr is the first of his family to have arrived in France, thanks to his talent for the violin. His parents were not musicians: an accountant mother and a mason father who also worked in Lebanon as a lifeguard.
“When my father was little, a girl played the accordion and the teacher presented her as someone extraordinary,” he says. One day, Bilal’s father wanted to try a violin placed on a table at a cousin’s house but could not get any sound out of it. “Later, in Lebanon, he listened to a violin piece on the radio and he said: I didn’t manage to play the violin, but my son will play it”.
As a baby, Bilal receives a toy in the shape of a violin in Damascus. Then, his father gave him this beautiful stringed instrument. He then finds a course in a music school, in a cellar. “I won a little competition, the prize was a blue walkman that I still have”. Spotted by a teacher, he entered the Solhi Alwadi conservatory and then won an international competition.
– “Beautiful story” –
French teachers offered him in 2010, at the age of 13, to come to Aix-en-Provence to continue his studies. A year later, with the war in Syria, it is “separation”; for years he no longer sees his family. Alone, worry in his stomach for his relatives in Damascus, Bilal works hard: every morning, he is at 7:00 a.m. in high school to do an hour of violin, goes on to classes then repeats for hours in the evening.
After brilliant secondary studies, he entered the Conservatory in Paris and succeeded in bringing his sister, then his parents.
“They had just arrived in France, still a little disoriented; we had accommodation available in Vauvenargues, we made it available, residents furnished it”, remembers the mayor, Philippe Charrin.
Six years later, his mother works at the village school and his father is the officer in charge of the waste disposal centre. “They are completely integrated, it’s extraordinary,” marvels Mr. Charrin.
Bilal has played alongside prestigious musicians such as Daniel Barenboïm, Renaud Capuçon and Hélène Grimaud. He obtained French nationality in 2021 as a personality contributing to cultural influence. “And he gives us this gift, these Musical Meetings of Vauvenargues: we had given a little and we receive a lot, it’s a beautiful story”, says the mayor.
Former college teachers from Bilal will attend the concerts. Students looked after by his mother will come to the musical awakening workshop. Bilal, who is starting to achieve his dream of becoming an international soloist, remains faithful to his base, from the love of his Syrian native country to that for his French host village and for all those who have helped him on his way. : “I am like a tree, the higher I climb, the deeper my roots sink”.