The fifth Finnish-Egyptian Musical Bridge in Cairo is the initiative of Ralf Gothoni, a Finnish pianist, conductor and professor, supported by a number of third parties.
For over one week, a number of music professors and maestros with a variety of instrumental and vocal specialisations work with young students during master courses, rehearsals and concerts. The Bridge also offers further development opportunities at the Savonlinna Music Academy and summer activities at the Savonlinna Opera Festival. Apart from cooperation with Egyptian students, the academy hosts musical "Bridges" with young musicians from Turkey, Germany and 13 other countries.
In previous rounds of the Finnish-Egyptian Musical Bridge, the Finnish team worked with young and aspiring musicians from the orchestras of the Cairo Opera House. This year, however, Gothoni is working with over 20 young instrumentalists and singers from the Cairo Conservatory. The team also includes Kristian Attila, Mark Gothoni (violinist), Eija Tolpo (an opera director and vocal coach-accompanist), along with Austrian soprano Gabriele Fontana and German pianist Hartmut Holl. The cooperation will culminate in four concerts to take place at the end of March and beginning of April.
"Apart from educational values, the Musical Bridge is a great opportunity to create many cultural friendships. The language of music transcends all political, religious or social barriers. We unite as musicians and humans, exploring our feelings and reach goals together," Gothoni comments, adding that, with Finland being a country of only five million, music is an important way to connect with the world.
This year the workshops and concert programme focuses on the compositions of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. "The classical repertoire helps us concentrate on a number of technical matters," Gothoni says. Working with Mozart, he explains, allows musicians to understand why they play this or that note, and to find a specific colorisation. The chosen compositions serve as examples to help students reach that clear pulse of each note, not only following the score.
On the other hand, Gothoni finds that exploring chamber music compositions are value-adding to all young students. "Chamber music can change your opinion of what music is or what it can be. Through those workshops, we explore interaction between the musicians and many important contrapuntal relations." When with students, Gothoni compares cooperation between the musicians in an orchestra to Cairo traffic, where everyone is well aware of his own positioning yet needs to operate within a much wider and more complicated complexity of factors.
This year, working with the Cairo Conservatory, students created an additional challenge for the Finnish team, since many technical aspects previously taken for granted now require attention. The cooperation, however, also creates an opportunity for understanding the musical development of Cairo's young musicians and an assessment of those areas in which they might benefit from foreign expertise.
Gothoni understands that Egypt's music scene sports many interesting talents; he sees potential in students who have "open eyes and hearts and are not refrained by too much ego." As much as creative talent that can bring important results, however, he also feels that some areas of musical education could benefit from improvement, as well as a better awareness of what is happening on the international music scene. As such, the Musical Bridge offers a miniature model of a different kind of education as well as a focused method for enhancing the student's musical development.
In this context, Gothoni underscores the great competition that rules the musical world. "Today, many young students dream of becoming soloists. But this ambition needs to be supported by the realisation of an incredible competition in the musical world, with a particularly strong presence of brilliant students coming from Asia." Gothoni gives an example of China having over 15 million students playing piano and over 18 million violinists. A large number of them excel on the musical and technical levels and compete in international arenas. Understandably, such overwhelming competition puts additional pressure on young musicians who want to make it to the top.
But competition is not the only challenge musicians face. Today, classical music is challenged by other genres, appealing to larger audiences and accessible through various channels. Gothoni feels that, in order to survive, classical music has fallen into market nomenclatures which often prevail over the musicality of the commodity being marketed. Since communication is failing, the Musical Bridge helps to reestablish connections with the core artistic and aesthetic values of this art.
Gothoni points to tools that can be used in order to attract the audiences, on the one hand, and revitalise the values of classical music on the other. He gives as an example the Venezuelan El Sistema, the Simon Bolivar Music Foundation, a music education programme initiated in the mid-1970s by the economist and musician Jose Antonio Abreu, which reaches out to young people living in impoverished environments or prone to drug abuse and crime. A few decades later, over 120 youth orchestras operate under El Sistema across Venezuela, and hundreds of instrumental training outlets teach music to children of poor socio-economic backgrounds. Apart from musical value, studies show that over the past decades El Sistema’s activities have contributed to lowering the country's crime rate.
Gothoni sees that in addition to all those values, El Sistema also develops and strengthens musical culture, and as such has become among the pillars supporting the existence of classical music.
Another example he gives is the MIAGI festival, MIAGI being an acronym for Music is A Great Investment. Operating in Pretoria, South Africa, MIAGI is a not-for-profit company that promotes music education for children and youth as an effective tool for social development, addressing the issue of ethnic relations through its all-inclusive programming and offering a platform for intercultural creative dialogue. The initiative also includes Western classical music.
Music development programmes, wide outreach and a team of dynamic and dedicated professionals will always bring about great results worldwide. With the many challenges facing musicians, Gothoni remains optimistic, believing that good education, enthusiasm and commitment is key to sustaining musical forms that we perceive as endangered.
The Finnish-Egyptian Musical Bridge targets a small number of music students, offering them a glimpse of the education available in European music institutions. Beyond musical values, however, interaction with international and accomplished professors and musicians is part of a self-building process; it helps shed light on many aspects of music while triggering discussion on musical values and the role of music in the world today.
The Finnish-Egyptian Musical Bridge will be returning in the years to follow, though Gothoni says it needs additional financial support.
The public will be able to see the fruits of this cooperation displayed in four consecutive concerts taking place in the Small Hall of the Cairo Opera House.
Thursday 29 March at 8pm
Chamber Music Concert
Mozart: Quintet KV 452 for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon
Brahms: String sextet B-flat major for 2 violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos
Friday 30 March at 8pm
Famous Arias and scenes from Operas
Sunday 1 April at 8pm
Orchestra of the Conservatory, conductor: Ralf Gothóni
Mozart: Piano concert No 11 F Major, KV 413
Mozart: Sinfonia concertante
Mozart: Symphony No 29 A Major, KV 201 (1st movement)
Monday 2 April at 7pm
Performers: Special guest Yuko Miyagawa (Grand-niece of Prince Fumimaro Konoe) cello; Gabriele Fontana soprano; Mark Gothóni violin; Ralf Gothóni piano; Hartmut Höll piano; young Egyptian artists
All concerts take place at the Cairo Opera House Small Hall, Zamalek
Photos by Sherif Sonbol