On the importance of Beethoven's symphonies and the Cairo Symphony Orchestra

Ati Metwaly, Tuesday 9 Sep 2014

On Saturday 6 September, Ahmed El-Saedi conducted the Cairo Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven's two symphonies, delivering a performance with a significance that goes far beyond just the opening of the new symphonic season 2014-15

Cairo Symphony Orchestra
Cairo Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Ahmed El-Saedi on 6 September 2014 (Photo: Dina Hamza)

Beethoven composed at the turn of two centuries and two eras – Classicism and Romanticism. This fascinating creative journey was sampled during the opening performance of the Cairo Symphony Orchestra's new season, an evening which took place on Saturday 6 September.

In the first half, strongly submerged in classical style, Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21 carried the audience through colours of the work reaching the lovely and surprisingly humorous fourth movement (Allegro molto e vivace). After the short entr'acte, the second half of the evening introduced the Romantic in style Symphony No. 5 in C minor, op. 67. The work has been described by E.T.A, Hoffmann, German author and music critic, as "one of the most important works of the time," while dozens of works were written about its "developing variation" as Arnold Schoenberg, Austrian composer coined it, or the pulsating four-note fate motif – probably the best known motif in the history of all music.

The music aficionados filling the Cairo Opera House main hall's auditorium were treated to the Cairo Symphony Orchestra (CSO) under the baton of Ahmed El-Saedi giving one of its most impressive performances. The many musical colors meticulously shaped by the conductor underscored the power of the Beethoven's genius which has never ceased to impress.

The evening carried a very special importance in Egypt's classical music scene, and this for several reasons. Not only the concert inaugurated the Cairo Symphony Orchestra's new season (2014-2015), it also marked the first evening in the Beethoven's symphonies series, represented by concerts that performed throughout the consecutive September's Saturdays. 11 October will close the series with Symphony No. 8 and one of the composer's final masterpieces, Symphony No. 9 in D minor "Choral."

It is with the Beethoven symphonies that El-Saedi returns to the orchestra as its principal conductor and artistic director, a post that he already held in the years between 1993 and 2003.

El-Saedi's choice of opening the season sends many clear messages to the followers of the Cairo Symphony Orchestra and Egypt's classical music field at large. During the decade when El-Saedi headed the CSO, the orchestra reached one of its most significant artistic heights. The musicians gave concerts all across Egypt, performing also in universities with many weekly concerts being broadcast on national television. The orchestra travelled extensively gaining international recognition. With El-Saedi leaving the post in 2003, many of the mentioned practices were gradually abandoned, while the departures of the many foreign experienced musicians inside the orchestra were compensated with new young Egyptian artists.

Since 2003, a number of foreign conductors took charge of the Cairo Symphony Orchestra. While the first conductors managed to provide several music accomplishments, with time, by the end of 2000s, a gradual decline in artistic priorities started penetrating the orchestra. The most recent principal conductors such as Marcelo Mottadelli from Italy (2009-2012) whose prior experience revolved around opera coaching and some conducting, followed by Jiri Petrdlik (2012-2014) from the Czech Republic who only visited Cairo on average once a month, were both investing time in building their own repertoires without putting forward any clear vision for the orchestra's artistic uplifting. The music lovers were left with memories of Egypt's once remarkable music body.

And despite the fact that throughout the past decade, a number of Egyptian and international conductors offered several memorable evenings, the absence of clear managerial strategies, lack of artistic sustainability, random programming only blemished the orchestra. Now, it is obvious that El-Saedi will need to heal countless artistic, aesthetic and managerial bruises. El-Saedi's profuse history testifies to his ability of facing the new challenges that the CSO has to offer; he does not need to pursue his personal music interests and as such he will probably exert maximum effort to restore the orchestra's days of glory. We will still need to understand El-Saedi's short and long-term vision and artistic plans.

For the start, choice of Beethoven's symphonies series is not just an interesting opening of the new season. For CSO, which by now has many new musicians on board, it is also an important exercise in re-building the orchestra's basic repertoire. The first part of this strategy already bore fruit when on 6 September, the Cairo Symphony Orchestra proved that it's over half-century long history of achievements has a full potential to return.


Cairo Symphony Orchestra is the state-orchestra founded back in 1959. The Khedivial Opera House served as its first home while Franz Litschauer as first principal conductor. Upon the old opera's destruction in 1971, the orchestra moved – along with other companies operating under the Cairo Opera House – to El-Gomhoreya Theatre. In the 1970s and 1980s, the CSO included mainly foreign musicians and throughout the years only a few of the best fresh graduates of the Cairo Conservatory (which opened only in 1959) began joining the ensemble. In 1988, the orchestra moved to the newly built Opera House located where it resides until now.

Over the past half-century, the CSO has performed at a multitude of venues in Egypt and abroad. Numerous principal conductors and hundreds of world-renowned soloists have performed with the orchestra.

Check the complete programme of the upcoming concerts in Beethoven symphonies series here

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