A Belgian musician of Cuban-Russian origins moved to Sibiu and set up a Chamber Music Series AN INTERVIEW WITH Cello-Soloist MAKCIM FERNANDEZ SAMODAIEV

By Dana Tudose Tianu

I met Makcim, 42, in Fagaras, in February, during a motivational conference for female entrepreneurs in which both of us were speakers. I found his story fascinating and thought it would be inspiring to share in the month when we celebrate Romania’s greatest musician, George Enescu. 

With a positive energy no one who meets him can easily forget, Makcim still catches people’s attention on the streets of Sibiu, even after four years there. Born in the former U.S.S.R., he spent his childhood in Cuba. He began his musical education at the National School of Arts in Havana and started performing public concerts at the age of eight. He studied at the Royal Music Conservatory in Antwerp, where he founded the chamber music group “Spirale Piano Trio” together with Monica Florescu, his Romanian wife, in 2002. 

In our interview, I try to uncover the answers to some of the questions Makcim has been asked hundreds, if not thousands of times, since moving to Romania, in 2014.

DTT: When and how did Romania enter your life?  

MFS: I met my wife, Monica Florescu, who is Romanian, in Antwerp, in 2002 and we worked there until 2012, as freelance musicians, after forming the Spirale Piano Trio. Together, we played on the largest stages in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain. Then, we had our two daughters, Karina and Rafaela. Our priorities changed when we became parents, and we began looking for a better, more suitable place to raise our children. In 2012 we moved to Mexico, where we lived for two years. Monica was teaching piano at the Music Institute in Veracruz and I was a member of the Symphonic Orchestra of Xalapa. We decided to come back to Europe, and go to Romania, rather than back to Belgium, because my wife’s grandparents were still alive and we wanted the children to get to know them. 

DTT: And how did you end up moving to Sibiu? 

MFS: For a year, we lived in Bucharest. I taught chamber music at the George Enescu National College of Music. Monica and I were participating in concerts all over the country, and, in January 2015 we went to Sibiu with a Schumann piano concert project. We loved Sibiu and we thought the environment there met our standards for raising and educating our daughters. We looked for jobs and we were lucky enough to find them with the State Philarmonic orchestra. We auditioned in June 2015 and in August, that same year, we moved to Sibiu, where our third child, our son, Vladimir, was born. 

DTT: I have to ask…what were people’s reactions when you relocated?

MFS: I remember that the Director of the Philharmonic in Sibiu was extremely surprised that two good, international musicians wanted to relocate, first to Romania and then to Sibiu. We explained to him that we loved the cultural life in Sibiu and the environment. The people we met and the friends we made in our first year in Sibiu were all wondering why we gave up living in Belgium, or Mexico, for Sibiu, when almost all talented musicians were trying to find job opportunities abroad. During my years as an international musician, I refused work and relocation opportunities in Ireland and the United States. Why? Because finding what I call a great place to live and call home means finding a place where you can contribute something, and also constantly learn and grow. When we decided to leave Belgium, it wasn’t because I didn’t have enough work there. But I would not have been able to live the life I live in Sibiu and offer my children the lifestyle I believe will give them a wholesome childhood. A full-time job in Belgium, as a musician, rather than a freelancer, would have meant that I almost never would get time with my daughters. On the other side, continuing as a freelancer kept us from giving the family financial stability.   

DTT: What was the first year in Sibiu like for you and your family? 

MFS: In Sibiu, we found a city with a great and old (approximately 300 years) musical tradition. We observed that there was a piano in almost every old house, and that the Sibiu National Theatre was instrumental in the city’s cultural life. So, we immediately began to look at the town’s cultural scene and ask ourselves where we could contribute. 

We started with our core and most beloved project, the Chamber Music Series. We ran it in Belgium for 6 years as well as in Mexico, so we brought it to Sibiu. 

In the first year, we organized it on our own expense, investing our resources, until the cultural society realized we were there to offer, to give, to share from our talent and experiences, and we were not looking for advantages or overnight profits. A musician, we all know, doesn’t live off of his music, but for music. However, a musician cannot be successful in an environment where the community, the society, doesn’t need what he or she has to offer. We were very lucky that in Sibiu there was both a need for Chamber music and the community was ready to invest and support our project. The German Forum in Sibiu invested in a brand new piano for the concert hall we use. 

DTT: How would you characterize Romanian cultural life? What is the most ardent change it must go through in order to continue evolving? 

MFS: One of the characteristics of the Romanian cultural life is that there are almost no foreigners in the classical music of Romania. Wherever I lived, be it Mexico, Cuba, the United States, Europe, there was always a big percentage of foreigners in the musical life. Europe is evolving towards diversity and this is not really the case in Romania yet. 

We’re going through an important shift in the civic consciousness of Romania. Romanians are starting to realize that they will not find happiness abroad, regardless of their material accomplishments. I am talking about the civic consciousness that comes from understanding that your country, where your family and friends live, deserves that we all work together to create the paradise we want. 

Romania inherited a very high standard of performance. Romanian orchestras can compete with any great orchestras in the world. It’s just a question of mindset and recognizing the value which is in the Romanian musicians and the Romanian cultural world. 

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