New names among the old
Amal Choucri Catta on additions and omissions to the local music scene
Third Arabic Perspectives Festival, opening concert; Cairo Symphony Orchestra, cond Gihad Daoud, soloist Wael Farouk. Main Hall, Cairo Opera House, 31 January 8pm
Cairo Opera House again hosts the Arabic Perspectives Festival presented by Cairo Symphony Orchestra. Conductors include Gihad Daoud, Mustafa Nagui and Taha Nagui and the event is taking place in three venues -- the Main Hall, the Small Hall and, for the first time, the concert hall of the Arabic Music Institute.
The festival, brainchild of Ahmed El-Saedi, began in 2002. Its avowed aim was to familiarise local and foreign audiences with the musical production of the Arab World's symphonic composers, while at the same time providing a platform for dialogue between local and foreign musicians.
The first festival comprised seven performances presenting, among others, works by Tarek Ali Hassan, Rageh Daoud, Refaat Garana, Aziz El-Shawan, Abu-Bakr Khairat, Gamal Abdel-Rehim, Ahmed El-Saedi and Nader Abbassi. The Second Arabic Perspectives Festival took place from 25 January to 8 February 2003. In ten performances several new composers were added to the original roster, among them Patrick Bishay, Atteya Sharara and Mona Ghoneim.
In the meantime Ahmed El-Saedi has been replaced by Sergio Cardenas as principal conductor and artistic director of Cairo Symphony Orchestra. Cardenas, who has not yet had time to acquaint himself closely with the local musical scene, has wisely left the organisation of the festival to Inas Abdel- Dayem, first flautist and managing director of the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, and now director and organizer of this year's Third Arabic Perspectives Festival.
Under her leadership Arab composers and musical associations have been contacted, in search of "the most promising new works", as she states in the foreword to the programme, adding that "a must in the selection was including works by young composers", while presenting "works of our classic pioneers, as an act of appreciation and gratitude for their musical creativity". Rifah Fakhouri, Gamal Salama, Bassam Nour El-Din are newcomers to the festival. Names like Ahmed El- Saedi and Sherif Mohieddin have vanished, while Nader Abbassi is represented only by a flute and string quintet performing on 5 February at the Arab Music Institute. Sayed Awad, composer of the Yarmouk Symphony and of the Arabic opera Cleopatra, presented a few years ago in Cairo Opera's Main Hall in concert form, has yet to make it onto the programme -- an oversight that one hopes will be corrected next year.
On Saturday the festival opened with the music of Aziz El- Shawan and Gamal Abdel-Rehim, and Cairo Symphony Orchestra in excellent form under conductor Gihad Daoud. Abdel-Rehim's Introduction and Rondo Baladi is attractively syncopated with brief folkloric sequences suggested by fleeting melodies saturated with polyphonic textures.
Born in Cairo in 1924, Abdel-Rehim died in 1988, leaving a number of students who continued along the path he had marked out, among them Rageh Daoud, Sherif Mohieddin, Mona Ghoneim, Aly Osman and Gamal Salama. He started studying music at an early age: a scholarship took him to Germany where he studied composition at the Musikhochschule in Freiburg from 1951 to 1957, the first Egyptian to study composition academically in Europe. Returning to Cairo he held a teaching position at Cairo Conservatoire, establishing the first department for composition in the Arab World which he chaired until his retirement in 1985. Abdel-Rehim has written orchestral and choral works, chamber and incidental music, music for children, ballets and songs. He was awarded several prizes, including the state award for composition. His works have been published in Europe and the US.
Second work of Saturday's concert was Aziz El-Shawan's increasingly popular Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, with Wael Farouk as soloist, the first homegrown pianist to tackle a work which has become synonymous with the Swedish pianist Bengt Ake Lundin. With extraordinary polyphony, outstanding melody and nostalgia by the truck load, the concerto requires a virtuoso and Wael Farouk fulfils that requirement well. The allegro moderato was remarkably mature and powerful, while the largo deftly managed the necessary tenderness. The movement ended as tenderly as it had begun, before moving into the third moderato energetico, an authoritative musical movement capable of sending shivers down the listeners' spines. The finale comes on strongly, dramatically, a climax that is reached only after a steady ratcheting up of tension. The audience loved the piece and Wael Farouk was called back on stage several times.
Farouk joined the Cairo Conservatoire aged seven. In 1989 he was awarded the "youngest Egyptian talent prize", and at nine years of age was the youngest Egyptian artist to represent Egypt abroad. He performed Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto with the Cairo Symphony Orchestra under Patrick Fournillier. In 2002 he made his German debut, touring cities with the North Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, performing Shawan's piano concerto with Ahmed El- Saedi conducting. In 2003 he toured the Czech Republic with the same concerto and the same conductor. Farouk won a Fulbright scholarship to study at the Catholic University, Washington DC, and in January 2004 was granted a scholarship from Converse College South Carolina. He is the only Egyptian pianist who includes Aziz El-Shawan's music in his repertoire.
Born in 1916, Aziz El-Shawan belongs to the second generation of Egyptian composers: He began his musical studies at an early age, playing the violin, the clarinet and the French horn. Interested in composition, he won a scholarship to study with Aram Khatchaturian in the then Soviet Republic. At a later date he was asked to form a symphony orchestra in Oman, which country decorated him several times. Shawan wrote a number of works, among them three symphonies, the ballet Isis and Osiris, two operas, Antara and Anas Al-Wugoud, the latter given regular outings at the Cairo Opera House. Shawan also wrote chamber music, four suites for orchestra, a collection of songs for choirs and Variations on an Egyptian Theme. He died in 1995.
The second part of Saturday's concert started with a Musical Moment by Rageh Daoud. Born in 1954, Daoud began his musical education aged nine, studying the piano. In later years he joined the Cairo Conservatoire's piano and composition departments. In 1977 he obtained his diploma in musical composition with honours and in 1981 was granted a scholarship to pursue post-graduate studies in composition at the Vienna Music Academy, where he studied with Thomas Christian David, one- time director of Cairo Symphony Orchestra. Daoud is currently professor at Cairo Conservatoire's composition and conducting departments, and has been awarded several prizes for his feature and documentary film music. In 1997 he received the state prize for musical composition. He founded and conducted the Hanager Centre Chamber Orchestra and since 2002 has served as chairman of the Committee for Music, Opera and Ballet at the Supreme Council for Culture, and as Dean of Cairo Conservatoire. His Musical Moment is a candid melody, though not devoid of a certain asperity and a distant, sometimes dispassionate indifference.
The concert closed with Adel Afifi's symphonic suite Kalila and Dimna in five movements, ranging from the sweet to the vivaciously animated and the furiously vehement. Afifi's music is generally melodious and he is unusually prolific, having scored successes in Egypt and abroad. Based on an ancient folk tale, his symphonic suite was well received by the audience who appeared to be in particularly festive mood.
See Listings for this week's Arabic Perspectives Festival concerts