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Arts: How music built a bridge over troubled waters

Luciano Pavarotti has lent his voice to bring the healing power of music to the children of Mostar. Susan Nickalls listened in.

Luciano Pavarotti has good reason to feel proud. When he opens the Pavarotti Music Centre in Mostar tomorrow he will have helped the charity War Child to create what few Western governments (or I-FOR or S-FOR) have come close to achieving in Bosnia - a multicultural project with the potential to help children, from all sides of the conflict, overcome the traumas of war.

The pounds 3.6m music centre is the largest post-war reconstruction project in Bosnia - Alija Izetbegovic, the Bosnian President, has called tomorrow's opening, which he plans to attend, the most important event to take place in his country for some time. And the funds to build it were raised almost entirely from the "Pavarotti and Friends" charity concerts (and subsequent recordings) which the tenor has organised in his home-town of Modena. Money is still coming in; the total figure is likely to be in the region of pounds 3.5m. Fellow War Child patron Brian Eno and his wife Anthea Norman- Taylor also raised substantial contributions through "pop star" art and fashion auctions.

Commenting on his involvement, Pavarotti says he believes children are our most important resource. "For those young, unfortunate and innocent victims of the cruel fighting of adults, it is our duty to provide for the future of their communities. As musicians, we are proud that we have built for these beautiful children a haven of peace, happiness and education where they and future generations can join together to make music."

During the war, Mostar was one of the most constantly bombarded cities in Bosnia, pounded first of all by the Serbs, then by the Croats, who almost reduced east Mostar to rubble and destroyed the famous, 400-year- old Stari Most bridge. It was against this backdrop that War Child set up a mobile bakery in east Mostar, keeping people alive with deliveries of fresh bread.

The charity's founders, film-makers Bill Leeson and David Wilson, quickly realised that one of the main things young Bosnians were interested in was music. Before long, late-night informal chats were transformed by the London-based architect Nick Lacey into visionary plans for a large- scale music centre.

When I first visited Mostar in May 1995 with Leeson, Wilson, Brian Eno and the composer Nigel Osborne, professor of music in Edinburgh and now music director of the centre, the former Luka primary school was just a shell. Barely an inch of the Austro-Hungarian facade had escaped the snipers' bullets; two sturdy marble staircases still stood, but the inside was knee-deep in rubble. Children showed us the basement where, despite the dark, the water and the rats, many had sheltered during the worst moments of the war.

As fast as Eno could unpack his boxes of exotic percussion instruments, the children snatched them up, banging cowbells and drums, shaking maracas and tambourines and singing at the tops of their voices. One of the most moving moments that day was hearing them perform an impromptu piece inspired by the River Neretva - the aquamarine jewel that runs through Mostar - in that cold, gloomy basement. The space now houses a state-of-the-art recording studio, designed by Eno and Peter Gabriel's One World Studio.

The main focus of the music centre - which now boasts an open-air courtyard cum performance space, as well as an aromatic garden with tactile sculptures for the blind - will be the clinical music therapy programme set up by Nigel Osborne. For the past few years he has run an intensive schools programme in Mostar and environs, preparing the way for in-depth work with individual children suffering from war trauma. Aided by Osborne's "Music in the Community" students from Edinburgh, young Bosnians from the Apeiron Arts Club are now running the workshops on their own. As Osborne says: "This project touches not just on Bosnian music, but music of the world, not just education but therapeutic education.

"It doesn't exist anywhere else, and these young Bosnian people are also simultaneously regenerating their own culture."

The centre will also house specialised music tuition for Mostar's primary and middle schools, as well as the pedagogical department of Sarajevo University. But it will be a focal point for many more activities: art therapy, publishing, photography, video/film-making, a DJ project, writing/drama, youth radio and complementary medicine. Already there have been violin masterclasses with students dancing to Boccherini, and music-mixing courses. The studio is already taking bookings: the British band Dodgy, who gave several concerts in Mostar during the summer, are soon recording tracks for their new album there; Eno plans to work on some of his own music there after Christmas; and Siktar, Sarajevo's leading rock group, will record there next year.

When I spoke to Wilson earlier this week, the centre was already buzzing. "It's frenetic but very exciting. As I look out of my window, I can see children from the special school painting the wall of the aromatic garden and hear them making a cheerful noise. The kindergarten children have also been in. We've been open three weeks and are now working round the clock to finish the painting and cleaning up."

But though the centre may now be officially open, Wilson is keen to stress the need for funds to run it over the next few years. "I'm confident we can fund the first year of operation, but it would be immoral to hand the centre over to the Bosnians in two years' time and not have any money in the bank."

He is full of praise for Pavarotti's fundraising efforts and certain the project would never have happened without him. "We had some basic funding from the music business in Britain but never enough to achieve all this. The two concerts in Modena and the record sales were what made the big money."

Now that the Pavarotti Centre is finally a reality, it's time for the healing power of music to begin to work its magic. But, with Mostar still to all intents and purposes a divided city, War Child can only pray that the trickle of young people from the west to the east will soon turn into a flood.