Qatar has a symphonic orchestra - and a very, very good one. This weekend marked the beginning of a new artistic era for Qatar and the Arabian Gulf as a result of two concerts by the newly formed Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra. The two concerts had the same program but different conductors. The first and official debut concert was conducted by Lorin Maazel, a conductor of monumental stature and current Music Director of the New York Philharmonic. The second concert was under the direction of Andreas Weiser, who assists Maazel in his duties with the New York Philharmonic and is the Managing Director of the Qatar Philharmonic.
The program included Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, Ravel's Bolero, and the world premiere of Marcel Khalife's Arabian Concerto. The final piece was the shorter Salute also by Khalife. The musicians are young, energetic, and obviously prepared and committed to the vision of building a world-class orchestra. Lorin Maazel showed obvious enthusiasm and deep pleasure in bringing this new artistic powerhouse into being. Although the first couple of Beethoven movement were a bit restrained (which caused me to wonder for a moment), by the time the final movements were on their roll toward ecstasy, I could hardly contain myself.
It really is hard to describe how technically accurate this group of young musicians was. The ensemble playing was perfection with no instruments inappropriately sticking out. The pitch was impeccable. The solo performances were extraordinary; there was not one error among the many solo wind and brass solos in the Bolero. As an audience, we could see Maazel growing in his flair as he began to swing, dance, and thrust his baton into the air during the new and exciting sounds of the Khalife pieces. The Khalife Arabian Concerto and Salute are sure to make an international stir as pieces that can bring the exotic sounds of the Arab world to people around the globe. Whether the new Qatar Philharmonic takes these sounds to the world in tours or if other orchestras attempt to play them on their own, the message is coming... The Arab world has a new artistic voice and it is one that will delight and hopefully connect us in significant ways. I can't help but imagine what it would be like if President Obama were to choose to produce an inaugural concert of world music that might include this amazing new Qatar Philharmonic playing Khalife's Arabian Concert. Wouldn't it be fun!
For those who know of my love of the music, my artistic soul is being fed again. One of the things I regretted most when I left Ohio was interrupting our commitment to the annual Cincinnati Symphony season. With any luck, there will be a Qatar Philharmonic season that will soon be coming our way.
The next step in Qatar's rising prominence as the Arabian Gulf's artistic center will the the opening of the Islamic Art Museum in Doha in December. More to come...