In Cairo, classical music concerts are mainly identified with the Cairo Opera House, usually in the Main Hall where audiences are requested to dress in formal wear, or the Small Hall which is more flexible with regard to attire. Gomhoria Theatre (giving stage to some of the Cairo Opera House concerts), the American University in Cairo (AUC) Ewart Hall, Prince Mohamed Ali palace in Manial with its breathtaking architecture and offering monthly concerts (mainly piano recitals), All Saints Cathedral concerts usually related to specific occasions like Christmas and Easter, are among the very few locations which include a classical repertoire.
El Sawy Culturewheel in Zamalek (El Sakia) seemed to give priority to other than classical music concerts and their halls gather contemporary rock bands and their young fans. In the past, El Sakia held a few chamber concerts and recitals incorporating classical music, however in the face of all other activities held by the centre their number was small.
The face of El Sakia is about to change. On 30 November, El Sakia String Orchestra gave its second concert in this season. The orchestra was formed at the end of summer 2010 and gave their inaugural concert on 19 October. This ambitious and inspiring initiative is driven by Mohamed Saad Basha, the orchestra’s founder and conductor.
Basha is a former member of the Cairo Opera Orchestra percussion section. He also studied composition with Egyptian musician Rageh Daoud and conducting with maestro Ahmed El-Saedi at the Cairo conservatory and currently he is teaching composition and conducting at the conservatory.
Basha’s initiative to form an orchestra at El Sawy Culturewheel came from the realisation that there is a need to raise young people’s interest in classical music. By choosing El Sawy Culturewheel as the location not only will he reach young people but also gain an umbrella of one of the most popular and vibrant cultural centres in Cairo. “The centre attracts a large number of young people hence the presence of classical music in El Sawy Culturewheel will give them an opportunity to get closer to this valuable music genre,” Basha told Ahram Online.
El Sakia String Orchestra consists of 12 musicians (strings: seven violins, two violas, two celli and one double bass). "We will be adding other instruments, depending on the concert programme,” Basha said.
On 30 November, El Sakia String Orchestra performed their second concert this season “Baroque Evening I”. As the concert title indicates the programme included works by Baroque composers. Taking into account the size of the orchestra, the choice of Baroque compositions is understandable. Moreover, El Sakia young listeners supposedly represent mainly novices, and an introduction to this era can be a marvellous start to their long musical journey. Without doubt, many of the El Sakia audience heard Pachelbel’s Canon and Gigue or Albinoni’s Adagio in G, even if not aware of their names and composers. Both compositions were performed by the orchestra during the evening. Pachelbel opening the first half, and Albinoni, the second. Basha also included Concerto No. 2 in E major for Violin and Orchestra, and Händel’s Concerto Grosso Op.6 No.1.
Johann Sebastian Bach was known in his day as a keyboard virtuoso. However he was also a skilled violinist, while his father Johann Ambrosius Bach was a professional violinist. J.S. Bach’s son, Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach, also a renowned composer, wrote in his notes: “From his [J.S. Bach] youth up to fairly old age he played the violin purely and with a penetrating tone and thus kept the orchestra in top form, much better than he could have with the harpsichord. He completely understood the possibilities of all stringed instruments.” Clearly, among many compositions for a variety of instruments, J.S. Bach had all that is needed to leave wonderful works for the violin for future generations to admire.
For Hossam Shehata, solo violinist, Bach’s Violin Concerto in E major is not new material. Cairene audiences could listen to him performing the work a few years ago, in All Saints Cathedral with the Cairo Ensemble conducted by Hisham Gabr. Shehata is a graduate of Cairo conservatory where he now teaches. He is also performing with the Cairo Symphony Orchestra. Among several credits, Shehata won the Top Talent International Masterclasses in Europe in 2001 (Holland) and recorded a CD.
“The El Sakia String Orchestra is a great project,” Shehata told Ahram Online. “We do not have enough orchestras in Egypt and it is important that El Sawy Culturewheel opened its doors to the orchestra,” he added.
George Frideric Handel’s Op. 6 is a set of 12 concerti grossi (meaning "large concert" – from Italian), composed in 1739. They are characterised by freshness and colourful musical phrasings. As such, Concerto Grosso Op.6 No.1. serves as great material for orchestras and is a delight to the listeners. Basha gave a short introduction on the piece before the orchestra started playing. His brief explanation on Handel and his work, an account of the music movement, was an important step in reaching the young audience-learners, who need to better understand this music genre.
El Sakia String Orchestra will give two more concerts before the end of the year, on 14 and 28 December. Both concerts will relate to Christmas. Basha believes that, in the near future, the orchestra will not limit their concerts to only El Sawy Culturewheel.