The Greater Europe Peace Orchestra – gathering people for real The Youth Association for a Greater Europe
The Greater Europe Peace Orchestra

The Youth Association for a Greater Europe is a non-profit organization and it was founded by an international group of ambitious young students and graduates from different parts of Europe.  They support the idea that Russia and other CIS countries should be involved in dialogue with Europe concerning economic, cultural and political issues. The history of the Youth Association for a Greater Europe dates back to the 2012 when it was registered in Paris. In the summer of 2013 it organized the first forum which was held in Strasbourg in a partnership with the Council of Europe. The Association continued this tradition in 2014 with second seminar in Paris with the support of UNESCO. This year it is organizing the third meeting which aims as the previous ones create a dialogue between Eastern and Western Europe, fight stereotypes and involve youth in the European policy making.

This year Benoît Odille and Chloé Renouf initiated the project the Greater Europe Peace Orchestra, which also come into view during the 2014 meetings in Paris. The idea of the project is to create an orchestra inviting high-level musician from EU, the Balkans and the Community of Independent States (CIS), who are motivated to promote peace and cultural cooperation through music. UNESCO headquarters  and MINES ParisTech are hosting several conferences on the 27th & 28th of July 2015.

The initiators of the GEPO Benoît Odille, currently working at the Schiller Institute, and Chloé Renouf, graduate of the Burgundy School of Business with the cultural management specialization, agreed to tell OneEurope more about the project and their expectations.

The musicians of the Greater Europe Peace Orchestra with the organizers

OneEurope: Music was always considered a language of peace and understanding. How the idea of Great Europe Peace Orchestra (GEPO) came up to you this year?

Chloé Renouf:

Benoît Odille, Daria Bulgakova and I were all participants of the Greater Europe Meetings 2014 organized in Paris by the Association for a Greater Europe. We gathered as a multicultural team to imagine a project able to unite youth from different European countries, despite tensions and prejudices. Benoît first came with the idea of music as he is an amateur singer and I also used to play the piano. When he talked about D. Barenboim’s Orchestra (gathering both Israelites and Palestinians gifted young musicians) and the idea of making the same for the European continent, we were immediately convinced. We decided to get inspired by this great conductor and to take the challenge to create a peace orchestra in Europe, in a time of serious tensions. (I even decided to write my final essay about musical projects dedicated to peace. I read many books by him and others musicians who put their art in the service of peace. The subject is so interesting and powerful, truly). At the end of the forum, we presented our project to a jury. They raised the crucial point to connect the orchestra with the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII. They first believed in our project and, from this point, we have been really motivated to make this orchestra a reality, despite short deadlines.

Benoît Odille:

When civil war in Ukraine burst I said to myself that one cannot stay without doing anything. War was at the doorstep of Europe and threatened to lead us in a military confrontation with Russia: it was for me unacceptable that we come to such a historical aberration and I wanted that youth reaffirms its will to cooperate against all odds!
I had followed the work of Daniel Barenboim and his youth orchestra composed of Israelis and Palestinians, and I thought we needed the same type of initiative for Europe, Ukraine and Russia, because only the universal beauty of Classical music can transcend the tensions and change them into aspirations to do good. Youth should take an active part in it, don't stay neutral.

OE: I’ve watched the video on you tube with the Myriam Bulloz, first violist in the project. It is always important to see people face to face and not only on the stage. Do you plan to interview participant from other countries?

Chloé Renouf:

We interviewed several musicians. Some also interviewed themselves. It is important to show in what spirit those concerts will take place. It is not just some other concerts. Giving the musicians a chance to speak is not very common. It is really important for us that our musicians believe in what they are doing and can express it through their interpretation of music and through their own words.

Benoît Odille:

We also interviewed Leyli from Turkmenistan. It's important to see how the players embody the idea of peace first as individuals and as citizens, then through music. We'll make interviews during the rehearsal week to produce a mini-documentary of the project.

OE: Are you enthusiastic to continue the project next year if the concert and its concept will prove its success?

Chloé Renouf:

Will there be bad luck to say anything before the concerts? Actually we are so focused more on this year's edition and, therefore, it is very difficult to plan what will be next year. The 70th anniversary of the end of WWII was the ideal year for an ephemeral orchestra. On the one hand, this project is very time-consuming and we all have a job alongside. On the other hand, we are already receiving musicians’ applications for next year. In any case, the Association for a Greater Europe will continue training many young people with innovating and powerful projects every year.

Benoît Odille:

Of course, if the result is positive (and for what I saw of the first days of rehearsal, it will). I think I will really consider developing this idea and bring it to a new level, either by organizing a tour through European cities or by extending the nationalities involved. I thought for example to include musicians from the BRICS countries (Brasil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and the United States because since last year things have profoundly changed and the BRICS seem ready for an enhanced cooperation with the West, and we should really take this opportunity to stabilize relations between peoples on a global scale, larger than Greater Europe. Also, a BRICS Youth Movement has been created and we should establish partnerships and common projects with it!

OE: The geography of the GEPO covers France, Russia, Ukraine, Germany and Georgia. If you organize the same event next year, will you consider expanding the geography of the participants?

Chloé Renouf:

If we could have gathered one musician from every country of the continent, we would have done so. But this is already quite a hard job to gather an orchestra from scratch and we did our best to diversify as much as possible the nationality of the musicians (even by going in the country to recruit them face to face!).

But again, nothing is planned for next year. It would remain within the European continent anyway, and diversifying the countries would be for the best.

OE: GEPO seems to be a very ambitious and at the same timely project for Europe and Europeans right now. First of all, East and West tend to become estranged from each other due to the latest political issues and prejudices and, secondly, because less young people are involved in the scene of classical music. If you could also address the European audience what message would you deliver on this behalf?

Chloé Renouf:

Music will speak for us. People just have to come and listen to the Greater Europe Peace Orchestra, and attend the conferences. More precisely, we think that war starts in people’s mind. Fear and ignorance are feeding rejection and violence. Gathering people for real, letting them work together on a project and enjoy music together, showing how beautiful and powerful the results of cooperation can be, - this is the beginning of acknowledgement and acceptation of otherness. This is the beginning of peace. At our level. At citizens’ level.

Benoît Odille:

I would say that Classical music, though powerful, is not a miraculous remedy to war but it helps you being more human. And if our leaders had this experience of music deeply rooted in their hearts and souls, I think we would solve much more problems that usually arise because of a lack of compassion or an excess of pessimism on the nature of man. Let's make the bet that we can base our relations on beauty. It's a question of outmost importance today in Europe, as two nuclear powers are facing each other around Ukraine and as poverty is spreading in Greece, Portugal, Spain etc. : these is threatening the cohesion and solidarity on the continent. Peace is not the absence of war but a continuous process designed to solve with positive actions the existential problems of mankind. Let's bring Europe in this greater direction!