The October Files

October has seen a remarkable number of valuable performances not only at the Cairo Opera House but also at locations such as the Pyramids, the Prince Mohamed Ali Palace in Manial, AUC’s Ewart Hall in Tahrir and El-Sawy Culture Wheel in Zamalek.

Published on 28 October 2010 in Al Ahram Weekly

In the last three weeks, classical music regulars like this writer spent at least every second evening moving between concert locations. But quantity has been equalled by quality, something that does not happen often.

The month began with Verdi’s opera Aida performed at the Pyramids (see Al Ahram Weekly issue no. 1019) and continued through to the Fire of Anatolia (Oct 12-17) at the Opera House Main Hall. The Turkish dance show was still on when, on 17 Oct at the Prince Mohamed Ali Palace, the renowned Spanish pianist Guillermo Gonzalez opened the International Music Centre’s new season (2010/2011) with a recital. That very same day the Choral-Percussion Celebration, conducted by Nayer Nagui and Michel Piquemal, gave a concert at the Alexandria Opera House (Sayed Darwish Theatre); and a day later, on 18 Oct, the concert was performed at the Cairo Opera House Main Hall.

The newly formed El-Sakia String Orchestra, conducted by Mohamed Saad Basha, inaugurated its activities on 19 Oct with a programme that included Bach’s “Air on G string” from the Orchestral Suite no. 3, Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.

On 20 Oct, the Ewart Memorial Hall (in collaboration with the German Embassy) hosted the Riesa Wind Ensemble with works by Bach, Purcell Ravel, Shostakovich, Khachaturian, Bernstein and others. The next day, the piano quartet with Yasser Ghoneim (violin), Rasha Yehia (viola), Mohamed Salah (cello) and Mohamed Saleh (piano) performed works by Mozart and Schumann at the Cairo Opera House Small Hall, which also two Metropolitan Opera HD transmissions for the first time, Wagner’s Das Rheingold on Oct 9 and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov on Oct 23 (see Al Ahram Weekly #1020).

And the events – in overwhelming numbers – continue. Lined up also for October are the English premiere of the Austrian musical production Tutankhamon (25-28 Oct) and the French Colonne Orchestra with their programme for children (29 Oct) among other events to attend.

***

Fire of Anatolia is a Turkish group of 120 dancers. Its history goes back to the late 1990s when Mustafa Erdogan, a Turkish choreographer, established his own dance troupe, called Sultans of the Dance. The troupe has been performing a variety of Anatolian folk dances in their rhythmic arrangements and strong movement interpretations. By 2001, the group became very popular and their shows took the name Fire of Anatolia. A year later the international tours began; and to date they have covered several dozen countries on all continents with every performance sold old days and weeks in advance. Prior to this occasion, the troupe had performed at the Giza Plateau.

Through a series of rhythmic dances of razor-sharp precision, the dancers walk us through the story of an Anatolian Prometheus bringing fire to humanity and following the struggle between good and evil. Sharp red and orange costumes representing fire emphasise the dynamism of the choreography, while later on, a variety of strongly contrasting colours stress the rivalry between power and values. The show includes a series of scenes, each using a folkloric base from Anatolia or another region and sending multicultural messages by revealing the folk legacy of Turkey, Asia, Mesopotamia, the Aegean and Mediterranean regions and the Balkans, with whirling dervishes and belly dancing included. In this rhythmic extravaganza, there is a hope that good will prevail because “Anatolia is good; humanity is good. All sides are at peace.” It is the drums, ironically, that call for reconciliation.

From Anatolian themes to a cultural variety of folkloric expressions, the sounds combine to produce the perfect elixir. But this is not the only reason for the group’s worldwide success. The show also pulsates with perfectly aligned dances and flawless group scenes, a remarkable ease the dancers manage to project in even the most complicated numbers. Dedication, precision and above all perfection make for a role model beyond admiration and respect.

***

From the pulse pounding Fire of Anatolia to a piano recital at the Prince Mohamed Ali Palace in Manial: a soothing change. The palace housing recitals of the International Music Centre offers delightful concerts on a monthly basis. The Guillermo Gonzalez recital was the first one in season 2010/2011. The programme included Valses nobles and sentimentales and Miroirs by Ravel, Fantas’a Bética by Manuel de Falla and a selection from Iberia by Isaac Albeniz.

Ravel’s Valses nobles and sentimentales (Noble and Sentimental Waltzes) are widely thought to have been written under the influence of Schubert who himself composed a series of waltzes eventually grouped into noble and sentimental. In spite of Ravel’s own statement, “The title sufficiently indicates my intention to compose a succession of waltzes after Schubert’s example,” the only similarity between Schubert’s and Ravel’s waltzes remains in the classificatory title. Fantas’a Bética by Manuel de Falla was a work commissioned by Arthur Rubinstein who also played it for the first time in 1920.

Gonzalez’s virtuosity does not disappoint; it was especially in demand in Fantas’a Bética, where Andalusian elements kept coming up to the surface. Spanish folk elements are equally clear in Isaac Albeniz’s Iberia. Many of Albeniz’s compositions were transcribed to guitar and popularised as such. Iberia was composed for piano and consists of 12 pieces, divided into four books. The complete work is a journey through Spain, its colours, emotions and folk motifs. Gonzalez’s “edition of the Iberia Suite is considered the definite source for the performance of this work, used by artists worldwide,” we read in the concert notes. And Gonzalez’s clear sound transported them into masterpieces of the piano repertoire. Taking into consideration the surroundings, not only was the recital a rare treat, it also marked a successful beginning of the new season.

***

A day after the piano recital, I went back to the Cairo Opera House Main Hall for the Choral–Percussion Celebration. The Ensemble Symblêma Percussions was formed in 2000 by Frederic Daumas, a professional French percussionist whose principal aim was to promote the art of percussions through dynamic and attractive performances. Symblêma gave one percussion performance in Cairo before joining a much bigger formation with the Cairo Celebration Choir, A Cappella Choir, percussions of the Cairo Symphony Orchestra and the Arabic Percussion Ensemble, along with Dalia Farouk (soprano), Rehab Metawi (traditional Arabic singer), Christine Lajarrige (piano), Maya Gvineria (piano and A Cappella Choir master) and Elisa Huteau (cello).

The first half of the evening was conducted by Nayer Nagui and presented his own composition La Philosophie de la vie. The second half was conducted by the French conductor Michel Piquemal and included Deux Poèmes by Alain Huteau, who has worked with the most renowned international artists. He composes for chamber orchestra, theatre and dance; and his music is a constant search for values through cultural mixtures.

La Philosophie de la vie (Philosophy of Life) is based on the poem by Elia abou Madi, the Lebanese-American poet, underlining the importance of a positive approach to life. “Through my readings of writings of many Arab poets, I have been personally touched by ‘The philosophy of Life’,” Nagui confirms in the program notes. To him the composition had to express Arab culture through its vivid rhythms, taking into consideration the poem’s words without undermining the melody already generated by the poem’s rhyme and rhythm.

Nagui’s composition incorporates choir, traditional Arabic singing, two pianos, classical and oriental percussions. It integrates light music, jazz for piano, Egyptian percussions and African rhythmic influences, among other elements. Strong rhythmic percussions and harmonies are emphasized by the choir, soloist and two pianos. Nagui’s expertise in work with choir was especially obvious while the Cairo Celebration Choir gave one of its best performances.

Conducted by Michel Piquemal, Deux Poèmes (Two Poems) based on Cantique des Cantiques (Song of Songs), with music by Alain Huteau, is written for choir, soprano, cello, piano, classical and oriental percussions. The piece refers to a cultural variety in which classical instruments meet with traditional. The lyrical soprano lines are intertwined with the choir against the cello’s melody, with space left for an inspiring instrumental improvisation.

“To me, use of piano with percussions creates a link, a necessary connection between percussion instruments and the voices, whether they are choir or soloist,” comments Huteau.

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