London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra made a little bit of history on February 19 with its first ever performance in the Middle East. The occasion was the opening day of Dubai Classics, which was celebrating its second year of bringing top quality musicians to the United Arab Emirates. The festival’s second day saw the Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra play at the Dubai World Trade Centre.
The Middle East is probably not a region of the world you would associate with classical music, but the Royal Philharmonic and conductor Alessandro Fabrizi were determined to make the music accessible for a new audience. The theme of their 19 February concert was classical pieces that were made famous by their use in film. The programme included works by Mozart, Beethoven, Sibelius, Barber and John Williams, whose works have appeared in such classic Hollywood productions as Jaws and Star Wars. The audience were entertained by Mozart’s piano concerto no 21, Sibelius’s Finlandia, Barber’s famous Adagio for strings, and Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
For Fabrizi, the choice of programme was important in seeking to reach out to new music fans. “The film music, I think it might help give something to the people and make them passionate to hear more classical music,” he commented before the performance.
The RPO has also sought to appeal to audiences in Britain with its annual concert of music made famous by film. It will be held again this year on 26 June in London at the Royal Albert Hall.
Rejecting the idea that classical music is only popular among the older generation, Fabrizi commented, “I think the responsibility to correct that misconception lies with the management of orchestras. They need to have programmes that will attract younger people.”
Through his conducting and other musical interests, Fabrizi is committed to making classical music accessible. He has collaborated with the RPO since 2011, while also working on his project relating to music and neuroscience to examine the impact hearing music has on the human brain. In one of his interviews with local media before his Dubai appearance, he defended his view that even if audience members lack the knowledge of classical music that is common among more traditional groups of concert enthusiasts, they can still be moved and inspired by attending an orchestral performance.
The Moscow Virtuosi led by its chief conductor and founder Vladimir Spivakov provided an excellent combination for the second night’s concert. The Moscow Virtuosi is on a world tour to celebrate its 35th anniversary. Spivakov has been awarded the honour of UNESCO musician of peace for his charity work, which has taken him around the world. Here is the chamber orchestra in action playing Vivaldi’s violin concerto in A minor.
Dubai Classics stands out as the only festival specifically aimed at bringing orchestras and solo performers to the city. In 2014, for its inaugural concerts, the famous soprano Sarah Brightman held two concerts at the Dubai World Trade Centre. Prior to this, the Dubai Concert Committee, an organisation of volunteers, had been bringing classical artists to the city since 1996.
Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s capital, is the main centre for classical music performance in the country. After a break of three years, Abu Dhabi Classics, a packed season of concerts combining some of the best known artists in western classical music with local and regional artists contributing their own eastern flavour, returned for the 2014-15 season. As part of its current season, running until May, it has welcomed violinist James Ehnes, pianist David Fray, and the Staatskapelle Dresden and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra to Abu Dhabi.
In its effort to combine arabic and western musical traditions, Abu Dhabi Classics held the world premier of a concert by Spanish conductor Jordi Savall last November. The concert boasted a number of international musicians with the emphasis being on traditional Arabic instruments like the Kanun, Rebab and Oud. The organisers also arrange events in local schools and universities for the visiting composers and musicians to discuss classical music and the composers whose works were being performed with a new generation of potential music fans.