The Robert Turnbull Legacy
Robert Turnbull spent two decades raising the profile of the arts in Cambodia. He personally supported musicians studying abroad and wrote numerous articles in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Opera Now, Daily Telegraph and many other publications in Europe and the UK. Aside from being a journalist, Robert worked as a pianist in the operatic world, helping him to gain an understanding of the complexity of performance. In 2012 he created En Blanc et Noir, a festival focused on young pianists in the Corbières Mountains in France.
When Robert arrived in Cambodia in the late 1990s, much of his effort was focused on the traditional performing arts and the people who practised them at a time when they were a clear priority. He also noticed that there were a handful of classically trained musicians who had studied in Russia and returned to Cambodia where there were, however, few opportunities to perform. Robert conceived the idea of performing a local production of The Magic Flute as a way not only of introducing Cambodia to opera, but also to create opportunities for indigenous performing artists. In 2014 Robert began a series of annual workshops and performances, the aim of which was to bring together international artists from the world of opera with Cambodia’s own local talents in a process designed to forge cultural dialogue and exchange between Western and Cambodian arts. The former Amrita Performing Arts Dance Ensemble, co-founded by Fred Frumberg, became a stable partner in these workshops and led to a guest appearance at the 2017 Sanxay Summer Opera Festival in France of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, directed by Stefano Vizioli, and a staged abbreviated performance of Mozart at Angkor in March 2018 at Chaktomuk Hall in Phnom Penh.
In 2018 Robert fell ill with cancer and despite intensive medical care, succumbed to its aggressive advancement on Christmas Day that same year.
The Mozart at Angkor – A Cambodian Magic Flute project continues to move forward, thanks to the generous bequest left by Robert in his last will, and to the wishes of Robert’s circle of friends who want to keep alive his visionary desire to cultivate the performing arts for the betterment of humanity.