Drama Music Fest presents live orchestral rendition of Egyptian film soundtracks

Ati Metwaly, Wednesday 4 Jun 2014

Ahmed Atef, the main dynamo behind this unprecedented musical event in Egypt, explains the aim of the festival scheduled for 6 June and shares his hopes for its future development

film music
From top left clockwise: Omar Khairat, Ahmed Atef, Tamer Karawan, Ammar El-Sherei, filmstrip, Rageh Daoud. (Photos from: Cairo Opera promotional material, artists' facebook pages, Ahram archives)

The Drama Music Festival, which will take place at the Opera House's main hall on Friday 6 June, is an initiative aiming to present a selection of music composed for Egyptian films. Brainchild of violinist and composer Ahmed Atef, the evening will include works by Tamer Karawan, Rageh Daoud, Omar Khairat, Ammar El-Sherei and Atef himself.

A conversation with Atef revealed that, although the project is still limited to one performance, the many values that it carries extend far beyond the notion of yet another evening at the concert hall.

"The idea of the festival goes back to the first weeks of 2011," Atef explained to Ahram Online. "At the time," he went on, "I was thinking of presenting my compositions for Egyptian films. I spoke about it with dr. Ines Abdel Dayem [then director of the Cairo Symphony Orchestra and, since 2012, chairperson of the Cairo Opera House] but then came the revolution and everything froze."

The idea, however, did not freeze. It continued to preoccupy the musician's mind until the Sound of Egypt Orchestra, an ensemble founded and conducted by Atef, performed his compositions at the Opera House's small hall in May 2013. As the initiative continued to develop, Atef decided to expand the repertoire and incorporate soundtracks by other Egyptian composers.

Today, a large banner located at the entrance to the Cairo Opera House grounds underscores the uniqueness of the 6 June concert with this statement: "For the First Time in Egypt – Drama Music Festival."

Though works by Egyptian composers keep returning to the concert halls, Atef's festival aims to stress the film scores, compositions which were specifically composed for the cinema.

The evening will include selected works from soundtracks to films such as Kit Kat Avenue, Ahl Al-Reda (Satisfied People), Qadiyat 'Amm Ahmed ('Amm Ahmed's Case), Ehdaa (Dedication) and Khally Balak min Aqlak (Take Care of Your Mind) among others.

As he insists on exclusively Egyptian composers, Atef's over 50-musicians-strong Sound of Egypt Orchestra equally consists of Egyptian artists only, "the best musicians from the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, the Cairo Opera Orchestra as well as a number of musicians from the Arab Music Ensemble who join us in the oriental music," he proudly elaborated.

For the audiences, the evening is an opportunity to recall the soundtracks they might well still remember from the cinema or television. On the other hand, "the concert carries commercial elements, which nevertheless do not jeopardise the music value," Atef emphasised.

"The first concert of the Drama Music Festival includes the names of well-established Egyptian composers; the platform also welcomes all talented composers with soundtracks in their repertoire. The festival aspires to explore and shed light on all interesting works by Egyptian composers of all generations," he asserted.

Aside from the event's obvious benefits to both audiences and musicians, Atef's initiative includes another important aspect: documentation of film scores.

"Many composers who work in a classical, organised manner have scores available at any given moment. On the other hand however, there are still many movie soundtracks for which scores are not available. They might be very old soundtracks available only as audio recordings. However, lack of scores can be generated through the challenging nature of the composer's work," Atef explained.

When under enormous time pressure, some musicians bring their scores in dozens of sheets to the recording studio, proceed with the recording session during which they might implement some spontaneous and momentary adjustments... As they leave the recording studio, some composers immediately move to the next project, often without completing the tedious cleansing and archiving process of the already recorded material.

Atef believes that when granted the opportunity of having the soundtrack played by an orchestra, some composers will actually need to exert effort in organising their scores.

While some compositions can be directly transposed from the film onto the concert hall, many other gems require additional effort from the composer. "A film soundtrack might include a theme of a few seconds supported by a cinematic image. Away from the cinema screen and performed by an orchestra, the same musical phrase usually needs some arrangement and rounding; it can become part of a longer sequence, or might turn to a suite for instance..." Atef elucidated.

Among his plans is taking the event to another level, where the festive atmosphere would span a number of days. "Frequency and regularity are equally important. We have enough wealth to turn this idea into a large-scale festival. And who knows, maybe at a certain point, we'll also be able to include songs composed for the movies," he concluded.

Friday 6 June at 8pm
Cairo Opera House, main hall, Zamalek, Cairo

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