Poster for a performance of the UAE National Symphony Orchestra, October 2012. Photo NeilvdL

Other than Doha and Muscat, neither Abu Dhabi nor any of the other emirates has a professional symphonic orchestra. Abu Dhabi has set different priorities, and Zaha Hadid’s center is still far from being completed. But if the former ADACH performing arts space next to the Al Hosn fort were going to reopen, there would be room for an orchestra.

For several years, ADACH supported Abu Dhabi Classics, in which series many well-known orchestras performed. But this has proven to be unsustainable. The Abu Dhabi Festival still invites prestigious orchestras, but only during the festival. For a while, the UAE had an orchestra made up of expatriate amateur musicians, the UAE Philharmonic Orchestra, but this initiative was terminated in 2012 due to a lack of funds and organizational problems, as it is difficult to maintain a full amateur orchestra coming from all over the UAE. In the same year, a new initiative started, the United Arab Emirates National Symphony Orchestra, consisting mostly of expatriate musicians with a professional background. It is based in Abu Dhabi, and its principal conductor is Andrew Berryman.

The symphonic orchestras in the Middle East do not restrict themselves to a Western symphonic repertoire, but they also play an oriental repertoire, both contemporary classical music in line with Western contemporary music, but also accompanying parts for some Arab semi-popular music, in the tradition of the great Egyptian, Lebanese and Syrian singers, who often sang with large orchestras. This means that, potentially, there would be more employment for such an orchestra than just catering to a somewhat elitist clasically oriented public. But, of course, an orchestra like that of Doha, with all musicians flown in from elsewhere, is an expensive undertaking. The Oman model is more rewarding, as the orchestra there was the result of recruiting young Omanis for decades to become musicians. But the Omani success indicates that there might be enough young Emiratis willing to become musician. Another idea would be to train young musicians in a much wider region, including Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, countries with a much longer tradition in music education, both in Western and in Middle-Eastern music.

Written by: Neil Last modified: 16th Nov 2012