Music in the Ruins

updated 07/04/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/04/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

THE CELLOS HAD BEEN SMASHED, THE clarinets were without reeds, the violins needed new strings. Even the sheet music had been burned to ashes. For two years the Sarajevo Symphony had sat silent. But last Sunday they performed once again—led by internationally renowned maestro Zubin Mehta. Fittingly, the program was Mozart's Requiem, or Mass for the Dead. Being honored were tens of thousands of Bosnians, including several members of the orchestra, who have been killed or forced to flee during the two-year Serbian siege of Sarajevo. "It was not a concert performance of a requiem," says Mehta. "It was a requiem."

The June 19 concert is to be aired in 26 countries worldwide and is expected to raise almost $5 million to aid war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina through donations and the sale of broadcast rights. The performance took place on a stage built in the burned-out hulk of Sarajevo's National Library, which has become an international symbol of the region's devastation. "It was in complete and utter ruin," says Mehta. "We could see the metallic under-roof looking like a piece of Kleenex hanging down."

The setting was not the only unusual aspect of the performance. Several members of the choir—summoned from the front lines to sing—were still in fatigues. The audience numbered only 50 because the atrium, surrounded by crumbling walls, was so small. And the musicians—playing, in some cases, instruments that were borrowed or repaired—had had only sporadic rehearsals to get ready. "It was one of those feelings that cannot be expressed in words," says violinist Romeo Drucker, 38. "Although the instruments were bad, we could still make good music."

The ensemble was supplemented by tenor José Carreras and three other opera singers who had flown in from Italy the day before with Mehta, in flak jackets and army helmets. Security was tight for the performance; shortly before the concert, a sniper killed a man and wounded a child in a streetcar near the Holiday Inn, where Mehta and others were staying. "They could have taken potshots at any one of the orchestra and choir, but they didn't," says Mehta. "I don't know why they didn't, but we are grateful."

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