With charm, aplomb, a large dose of Vivaldi and mercifully short speeches, Bulgaria’s city of Plovdiv handed over to Croatia’s Rijeka and Ireland’s Galway its title of European Capital of Culture.
The handover ceremony, at the Boris Christoff House of Culture, was a scaled-down, lower-budget and much more intimate affair than the opening of Plovdiv European Capital of Culture 2019, on January 12 precisely a year earlier.
Directed by the head of Plovdiv State Opera Nina Naidenova, the programme for the 2020 event revolved around Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, meant to symbolise Plovdiv 2019’s four platforms: Fuse, Transform, Revive and Relax. Joining the festivities were Plovdiv children who have won awards at various music competitions and a chamber orchestra led by Bulgarian violin virtuoso Lia Petrova.
Towards the close of the performance, the representatives of Rijeka and Galway were each presented with a figurine created by Plovdiv-based artist Atanas Hranov. Made from a fragment of stone from one of Plovdiv’s hills, the figurine is inscribed with the words “Staying Together”, a reference to the motto of Plovdiv European Capital of Culture 2019 “Together”.
Throughout the performance, ably compered by Plovdiv Opera’s Melbourne-born award-winner Mark Fowler and the Opera’s Lili Burzeva, and lasting just more than an hour while being streamed live on social networks, photographs of events that were part of Plovdiv’s year as European Capital of Culture were shown, as the hosts rattled off lists of statistics about the events.
For visitors to Plovdiv, the handover was about much more than just the event at the Boris Christoff House of Culture, as a three-day programme also included attractions at museums in the city, the Plovdiv City Art Gallery and other events.
Notwithstanding the lingering controversy about the opening ceremony a year ago – prosecutors continue to take an interest in alleged mishandling of the reported 2.1 million leva spending on the January 2019 event – the somewhat lower-budget (reportedly, 50 000 leva) closing was polished, pleasant and an occasion for the people of Plovdiv to tell themselves that while that they had officially handed over the title of European Capital of Culture, they really would retain it, and in this city of 7000 years (older than Rome, a proud Plovdivchan will tell you) forever would.