Gems in dust

Enjoying the breeze at the Citadel Summer Festival… almost

Published on 28 July 2011 in Al Ahram Weekly

Despite the location and timing, the usual technical, organisational and logistical issues have shed a dark shadow on this potentially remarkable event. This year’s programme was less variable, for one thing — something that could be explained by political instability. No amount of instability however will account for the same technical and organisational issues year after year. One major issue for a festival aimed at a wide audience is the lack of publicity, for example. Listeners complained of not finding out about events in time; many, like the secondary- school student Marwan — an Arabic music enthusiast — missed their favourite events in the first few days. Last-minute changes in the programme occurred frequently without prior warning, with Mai Farouk fans on 24 July ending up with Tarek Fouad, for example. Mai Salah, a fine-arts students there with a group of friends, said, “I like Tarek Fouad, so it’s ok, but the change remains unexpected.” Another audience member like Ahmed Abdalla, a computer engineer who arrived at the Citadel alone, was so frustrated he left in protest.

Still, Sherine Mohamed, a young pharmacist who brought along her mother and a friend, praised the variety of the programme and the yearly opportunity it provides for exposure to a range of genres. Sherine’s mother says that, while most people like herself come to the Citadel for Arabic music and specifically singers like Medhat Saleh, Mohamed El Helw and Reem Kamal, she has listened to enough classical music by virtue of being a regular over the years to be able to name name one or two compositions by Beethoven and look forward to The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II. “The choice of classical music should be suitable for our ears. It would’ve been be better had the orchestra performed a shorter composition or something easily recognised by the audience,” she commented on Korsakov’s Antar.

Dr Hani, an orthopedic surgeon, mentions jazz festivals he attends with his wife Randa. Though he listens to a lot of Arabic music, there are Russian classical composers that he likes — Rachamaninoff, for example. On the contrary to Sherine’s mother, he opposes the fact of mixing too many music genres in one festival. Yet, unlike Sherine’s mother, he feels the Citadel Festival should focus on one genre only, pointing out that “most of the people attending the Citadel Festival are not interested in classical music”. For his part Abdelfattah, a steel worker from Mansoura who visited the festival with a friend, is a big fan of the Egyptian icon Om Kolthom as well as classic stars like Nagat and Warda but also the Lebanese singer Elissa. “I am not an educated man, I don’t understand this Western music,” he commented on Korsakov’s Antar, “but I don’t mind trying to listen to it for a few minutes.” Emad, Abdelfattah’s friend, agrees, saying a little musical education would not hurt in this regard.

Thus the Citadel Festival brings together people from all walks of like, and it is important to note that only audience magnets should be selected from the classical repertoire; at the same time the curators should never underestimate the audience’s capacity for appreciating good music or their critical engagement with performances. For Shadi, a shop owner from Mokattam, since “the festival takes place on three stages, each should be assigned a specific genre”. More importantly, sound problems of the kind that marred the listening experience of both Michelle Rounds, a professional singer, and Saad Embabi, a retired electrical engineer, during Reem Kamal’s performance must be overcome. “Reem Kamal has a very powerful voice. She wasn’t at her best today and the sound was not good,” Mohamed, a law student and one of Kamal’s devoted fans, remarked. Technical problems have been inseparable from the festival, and that seems totally unforgivable after 21 rounds.

In spite of the faults, however, the festival generated a lot of positive energy listeners, regardless of backgrounds and preferences. Most seem ready to give classical music a go; everyone is aware the issues, but they spoil the experience for few. Once logistics and organisation are effectively tackled, this will be an occasion of tremendous import.

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