What is more pleasurable in the first days of the New Year than tuning in to Christmas music? Rania Khallaf
listens to some old favourites
The trio: Sharara, Hamdi and Khalil on the Small Hall stage
The famous duo of guitarist Emad Hamdi and violinist Hassan Sharara celebrated Christmas by injecting a new spirit into their successful partnership: the young soprano Christine Khalil.
The new trio has now presented two concerts. The first took place on 25 December, the Western Christmas Day, in the Small Hall of the Cairo Opera House, and the second was on 2 January at the Sayed Darwish theatre in Alexandria.
Both concerts were very well received. The Small Hall at the Opera House was full to capacity, while the Sayed Darwish theatre, though not full, was busier than usual. It seems that the audience for guitar and violin ensembles is on the rise.
The programme was divided into two halves; during the first the duo played tango and Latin tunes from their popular repertoire such as "Sway", "Secret Garden", "Liber Tango", "La Comparsita" and "Tico Tico".
The second half was allocated completely to Christmas music. Joined on stage by Khalil and her gorgeous voice, they played famous and popular carols such as "The First Noel", "Joy to the World" and "Silent Night".
It was a joyful occasion for both Christians and Muslims. The magnificent tunes of the guitar and violin, coupled with the angelic, powerful voice of Khalil, created an almost unparalleled atmosphere that bestowed on the audience the spirit of true camaraderie of the New Year.
Two of the Christmas tunes were already well known to all generations: "Jingle Bells" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas". The concert, however, was no easy one to perform. It was Hamdi who suggested the idea of having a Christmas concert, and he put in great effort to arrange the melodies for guitar and violin. For "Jingle Bells" Hamdi chose the canon form, a form that appeared in the Baroque period and was revived later by Sebastian Bach.
"This form helped shape this song. It sounds like real bells as it gives priority to the guitar rather than the soloist, and then to the violin. And I chose this song because it is already popular among both Christians and Muslims alike," Hamdi said.
"Joy to the World", also arranged by Hamdi, won warm acclaim from the audience. "I employed the violin to play two roles: to follow the singer as a melody and then make variations on the melody. The guitar, as an accompanied instrument in this song, plays the role of the harmoniser of the tune," he said.
This is the second time Hamdi has presented a Christmas gala. The first was in December 2004 with the famous soprano Niveen Allouba.
"The idea of creating the trio stemmed from a desire to present a new form of music and enrich the duo," Hamdi said.
Khalil, 25, is a student at the Talents Development Centre attached to the Opera House, where she is learning the guitar. Emad Hamdi is her tutor there. It took him two months to teach her the arrangements of the songs, while the trio had only two rehearsals together, both just two weeks before the first show.
Although it was only the second time she has appeared on stage, Khalil's performance was par excellent. The trio performed in total harmony, even though it was their first performance together.
"It was Hamdi who encouraged me to try out my voice on the Opera House stage," Khalil said. "I really owe him a lot for his keen interest in my voice. I was so scared about performing in front of this huge audience, but thanks to the encouragement of these two great musicians I feel happier than ever now."
Khalil, who has sung hymns in church choral concerts since childhood, is also taking operatic singing lessons at the Opera House and dreams of the day when she will be a professional singer and guitarist like her mentor.
Despite the excellent turnout at the Cairo Opera House, the concert in Alexandria drew a smaller audience. "This was largely because of the lack of marketing for the concerts," Hamdi complained. "The Opera pays more attention to international companies for ballets and orchestras, and shies away from unique Egyptian bands such as our duo."
For the first time in Egypt, Hamdi will present a Flamenco concert under the title "La Guitarra Flamenca" on 28 January in which he will give a solo performance of the basic forms of Flamenco music, including Soleares, Farruca, Bulerias, Tarantas and the Rumba. "It takes me a great effort to study these melodies, because they are really hard to play," Hamdi said. "I am sure the concert will be a big hit and I invite all lovers of Spanish music to come," he added, his smile widening to a broad grin.