What brought you to the Netherlands?
It was in 1998, through a turn of events, thanks to my collaboration with the Jeunesses Musicales orchestra of Bucharest. There was a musical tour organised in the Hague, a competition between youth orchestras. The entire platform was based on having the youth accommodated by families who also had children in the youth orchestra in the Hague. That’s how I came into contact with the Netherlands.
Why did I choose to stay here? At the time, I had several options to study at a conservatory abroad, in Germany or Switzerland, but German was mandatory there and I didn’t speak German. Then, in the UK the cost of living was too high. France was excluded from the start, but with the Netherlands, I already had a nice contact with the family where I stayed in 1998.
So I chose to come to the Netherlands, here Dutch was not mandatory in the first school year. On top of that, my 5,000 guilders tuition fee was covered by a Nuffic [Dutch organisation for internalisation in education, ed.] scholarship. So, the reason was my professional development, my wish for artistic achievement in a favourable environment, where I would increase my chances on the labour market, but it was also from the perspective of my artistic development. An environment that in Romania had already started to be less and less accessible to musicians: three hours at the conservatory had been reduced to one, the school performance levels had dropped.
How was it in the beginning?
It was hard in a society that I didn’t know that well. I didn’t understand people the way I do now, many times their perception of me was probably different from my real character because I was very eager to do so many things, I had too much initiative compared to the culture here, where you first organise a couple of meetings, discuss over coffee and cake, and eventually decide after ten meetings. With me, it had to happen faster and because of this I had some kind of shock in the beginning.
Over time, given my entrepreneurial drive, I’ve attracted around me Dutch people and of other nationalities that I can work with, people with whom already in our second year of study I formed a chamber group and we gave concerts. Bit by bit, during my studies at the conservatory, I got more and more involved in projects with professional orchestras, which gave me the chance to work with famous conductors and soloists. For my artistic development it wasn’t so much the school that was important, but rather all these appearances and the practical aspect of my profession have helped me evolve very quickly. In Romania, because the cultural centres are so far away from one another and the infrastructure is poor, I wouldn’t have had the same kind of agenda as here. From the Hague I can easily go anywhere in the country.
How do you feel in your current environment?
I feel accepted. Over time, I had to work on this aspect, to be accepted by society the way I am, with my wishes, with my way of working.
In the Netherlands there is a lifestyle for which we, Romanians, need more time to adjust to than perhaps in other countries in Europe. The way in which the society functions was completely unfamiliar to me in the beginning. Based on our key rule in Romania to show up for an appointment 15 minutes or even an hour later, here, if you’re not already punctual, you have a problem. And I had to learn to be punctual, so I no longer have problems. On the other hand, their direct way of working is a double-edged sword: they seem to be direct and open when collaborating, but they are also chasing information. We are flattered that we are noticed by the Westerners and we give everything away, only to be surprised afterward that they no longer communicate and we wonder why. Openly, they smile at you, but behind your back many things can happen.
Apart from these aspects, when we talk about infrastructure, you can develop from all points of view if you want to and you have ideas you want to capitalize on. You are given opportunities that you can truly work on.
What did success mean to you when you left the country and what does it mean now?
Before leaving Romania, my dream was to be acknowledged in the artistic world, to make a name for myself, an idea that has to do also with the kind of schooling in Romania, you are focused on a certain trajectory, you have to work especially on the artistic side, you are being told perhaps too often that you have to be the first and the best. On the one hand, I find it a good thing that competition is stimulated, but on the other hand this type of schooling seems pretty detrimental to children. There are very high expectations being set, but also very big disappointments. Disappointments which also I have had, but perhaps to a lower degree since I continued to practice this job.
I had to go through some moments when I had to accept my cause, to understand that I would not become a world-famous soloist, that I wouldn’t be such a big name, as it is, in fact, expected of you in the schools in Romania.
But success does not reside in these things, but in the perseverance with which you build something. I assign my success margin to what I’ve achieved for myself, personally. To continue what I’ve started – quite difficult for an artist, nowadays – is already an achievement for me. Moreover, I am very active and I create my own opportunities, I never wait for something to happen, which gives me the satisfaction I need in order to function, I am happy, but so are those around me, who want to enjoy my achievements, directly or indirectly.
What’s the project closest to your heart?
I have several projects running, but closest to my heart is the renovation of a former school in Germany, a school that will become a place to promote culture on all levels. It is a project that has been keeping me busy for five years already. And it will take roughly another two until the school will be ready.
Why Germany and not the Netherlands?
I’ve mentioned earlier that there are many opportunities in the Netherlands, but I couldn’t finance my project here, unfortunately. All the investments that I’ve tried to start in the Netherlands came to a halt when discussing with the bank, even though the plans were pretty well defined. I was coming from the artistic field, meaning high financial risk, so I didn’t get the loan.
Due to this, all the funds I had as a natural person I’ve invested in Germany. I managed to buy and develop a former school. After five years, my idea to have a cultural centre in that village in the Vulkaneifel region in Germany has taken shape.
At first, the people were reluctant to the idea of Romanians relocating in a German village, but after they understood what the idea was, in fact, all about, that it wouldn’t be a B&B, as it’s common nowadays, but rather a well-defined project, with cultural goals, the people started to realise the potential for the area’s development. At some point, the villagers wanted to demolish that school, because it had a risk factor since it hadn’t been in use for over twenty years. Four years after the renovation started, when the exterior was ready, we marked the building’s hundredth year with a concert in the village church, where we invited all the villagers. For free. To them, this was something unprecedented. We then presented our project at length. Up until then, only a few people knew what was going on: the mayor, the former village teacher, and the people from the church.
I tried to create a tradition in the village, to organise a concert on Easter and Christmas. For our past Easter concert this year [2017, ed], we invited musicians from the region, we created an ad-hoc quartet with Romanian and Dutch colleagues, we promoted the concert all by ourselves in local and regional media. The concert culminated with a recording broadcasted by SWR [regional radio and TV company, second largest in Germany, serving the Southwest, ed.], which has a pretty wide coverage. In 1998, SWR came to the village and made a coverage on the church street. In October 2017, a team came again and did a follow-up on the evolution of the village. If at first there were some ultra-local activities, now that street is the node of an extremely developed cultural activity. Apart from my project, there is another company that does pixel-painting presentations [digital graphic art, with images edited at a pixel level, ed.] globally and there are several other small cultural organisations and not only. And like that, the village has become a small cultural centre in the region. There are people who are interested in my project, who come from Bonn, Cologne, Trier, Koblenz, etc.
What is your relationship with the Romanian community in the Netherlands?
I continue to consider it a rather strange bubble. There are many people who have come from Romania over time, from all walks of life. You cannot meet with all of them, at the same time, and nor is that necessary. Over the years, I have met various Romanians and have made some friends, but I notice that Romanians still show a certain reluctance in making contact with each other. For some time now, there has been some activity, new initiatives surface, I join in some of them with the wish to create a kind of database of people in the cultural world in the Netherlands, not necessarily to work together, but simply to get to know each other, to open doors for each other, to see what affinities there are so as to try and promote together not only the Romanian culture, but culture in general. We are Romanians, but let’s not forget that we are Romanians in another country. We always try to promote ourselves, but we forget that we are, in fact, a sort of symbiosis between what we have and what the others here have. It is healthier to find these bridges between cultures, between people.
There are Romanians in the Netherlands, there is also a Romanian community, but it is still at an early stage in its development. There is still a long way to go until it becomes a true community. There is a major lack of communication, there are many ambitions focused too much on personal interests that I notice very frequently with Romanians in the Netherlands. Eventually, we are all people, no matter where we come from. If a single ant tried to move a rock, nothing would happen; but if the entire anthill got to work, then we would get somewhere. Personal interests should be put aside.
What would you advise a Romanian who would like to leave Romania now and come to the Netherlands?
First of all, they should weigh very well all the attributes and advantages they have in Romania before considering the advantages they might get in the Netherlands. What and why are they leaving behind in Romania?
An interview by Claudia Marcu
Translation by Alina Marginean, proofreading Mihaela Nita
photos from the personal archive