BUCHAREST, Romania — Queen Marie believed that life is a glorious celebration of music and song. A century later, the country’s capital city of Bucharest, once known as the Paris of the East, has lived up to the queen’s motto by staging the most ambitious classical music festival Romania has ever seen.
The Salzburg festival in Austria and the annual summer music festival in Lucerne, Switzerland, are more established classical music events on the European circuit. But the George Enescu Festival, now in its 21st edition, has been quietly making a name for itself, aided by its artistic director, Ioan Holender, the Romanian-born musician who directed the Vienna State Opera from 1992 to 2010.
An estimated 4,500 people went to 150 concerts, and a record 120,000 tickets were sold for the September festival that drew important orchestras from Europe and the United States.
Enescu, who died in 1955, was a Romanian composer, violinist, and conductor who moved to Paris when the communists came to power. The festival always begins and ends with his compositions.
Some of the tickets sold out in hours. Concerts were even offered as part of the itinerary for a classical music-themed cruise on the Danube that also included concerts in Salzburg and Budapest for a pricey 7,000 euros ($9,450).
‘‘I was struck by how prominent [the festival] is in Romanian cultural life,’’ said Noah Bendix Balgley, concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, which played on Sept. 2 and 3. He called the ‘‘audience energy and response . . . incredible,’’ noting that the hall was standing-room only.
Romanian math teacher Elena Ungureanu went to eight concerts. ‘‘There was a very high standard of music and the soloists and orchestras were special,’’ she said. ‘‘There were lots of young people and many people were standing. I wouldn’t have had the chance to see such great orchestras if they hadn’t come here.’’
One morning during the festival, violin and flute music floated across Revolution Square, a tranquil historic spot in the otherwise traffic-snarled capital, as tourists and passers-by crossed. It was a fitting musical footnote to the Wagner, Beethoven, and Mozart concerts that rung out from concerts at the nearby 19th-century Atheneum and the Palace Hall, where late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu presided over the Communist Party’s final congress weeks before his downfall and execution in December 1989.
The festival, which started in 1958 and is held every other year, has grown larger and more attractive in recent years as the country has opened to tourism and foreign investment. Tickets for the 2015 event will go on sale in February of that year, and if this year’s success is any indication, many concerts will be sold out months before they take place.