Osiris String Orchestra: A new ambitious ensemble, platform for Egypt’s amateur musicians

Fatma Khaled, Saturday 11 Mar 2017

The orchestra is the brainchild of Awtar Quartet, implemented in cooperation with Osiris for Art Production and Training. Their first concert will take place this week at All Saints Cathedral in Cairo

Osiris String Orchestra
Osiris String Orchestra during a rehearsal at the Osiris centre, led by Khaled Saleh (Photo: Fatma Khaled)

Attentively following their leader and tutor, a group of 10 amateur string players begin Johann Pachelbel’s Canon. This is one of their last rehearsals before the big event: a concert scheduled to take place at Cairo’s All Saints Cathedral on 17 March.

The ensemble, called Osiris String Orchestra, is a body initiated by the Awtar Quartet and it is the first orchestra for amateur musicians formed with an aim to develop their skills and give performance opportunities.

The idea of the Osiris String Orchestra began in November as a collaboration project between Awtar and Osiris for Art Production and Training, an independent arts centre that supported the logistical aspects of the ensemble.

Consisting of Egyptian musicians Yasser Ghoneim on first violin, Khaled Saleh on second violin, Essam Abdel Hamid on viola, and Mohamed Abdel Fattah on cello, Awtar was founded in 2012 and within a very short time established itself as one of the leading ensembles practicing an extremely dynamic outreach to a variety of audiences.

“Our collaboration with Omar El-Moataz Bellah, Osiris’s founder, seemed natural since we share similar artistic directions and we know each other well through Awtar Quartet’s performances and other trainings previously held at the Osiris Centre. We take care of the academic and artistic aspect of this new orchestra while Osiris provides a space for training,” Khaled Saleh, Awtar Quartet’s violinist, told Ahram Online.

Auditions took three weeks and resulted in forming an ensemble that consists of nine violinists and one cellist trained by Saleh and Yasser Ghoneim from Awtar Quartet.

Osiris String Orchestra
Osiris String Orchestra during their rehearsal at Osiris, with one of the tutors from Awtar Quartet, Yasser Ghoneim, on far left (Photo: Fatma Khaled)

Coming from different walks of life, and being different ages, the students have versatile musical backgrounds, yet many of them have never performed in an orchestra and so this is a completely new experience to the passionate musicians.

“Those students are originally part of our audience and having amateurs playing classical music will allow an outreach to more similar amateurs, talents, and all types of listeners,” says Saleh.

Abdel Razek, who is in his early 30s and works as an accountant, told Ahram Online that he started playing violin very late. “I struggled to find a music training centre that would teach music for students in their late 20s. I learned individually, through private lessons with violinists who play in the Cairo Opera House. But then I decided to join Awtar Quartet’s orchestra as I always wanted to be part of an orchestral ensemble. I knew about this orchestra idea a couple of months prior to its launch. It’s great that it finally happened.”

Abdel Razek continued explaining how he admires Western classic music because “it holds a sophisticated technique. Osiris String Orchestra helped me uncover the ethics of this profession, discipline and commitment. While learning about focus and my role in the orchestra, the workshop also responded to my passion for the violin and enhanced my musical performance.”

Lydia Malak, who is in her late 20s, also shares a passion towards the violin and music. She, too, studied violin through private one-on-one tutoring, and shares Abdel Razek’s enthusiasm for this new experience of playing in an orchestral ensemble. She points to the new way of “listening to music and to the other players. It also creates a lot of creative power.”

Awtar Quartet are known for engaging in dynamic community outreach where they play music to a variety of audiences in different neighbourhoods. “I hope that I can join Awtar Quartet in future projects, performing in the streets and hospitals, which I believe influences diverse audiences positively and reaches a massive number of listeners, many of whom might not be able to reach performance venues,” Malak commented to Ahram Online.

Osiris String Orchestra
Osiris String Orchestra during rehearsal (Photo: Fatma Khaled)

Malak and other amateur musicians may well continue, since as Saleh reveals, “We hope that this project becomes permanent after our concert. We will hold further auditions in the summer to enlarge the orchestra and allow other students to join. This will also give us an opportunity to perform in orphanages, hospitals, and other venues,” he explains.

For the time being, however, the Osiris String Orchestra is focused on their first concert. “For the upcoming concert, we chose compositions that match the ensemble’s current entry level and allow them to advance gradually. Later they will be able to play more challenging works."

The event will include Pachelbel as well as Vivaldi, an arrangement of music from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, and music from Game of Thrones, among other compositions.

“It is very important to have an active amateur orchestra,” Saleh comments. “Classical music should be accessible to everyone, beyond the walls of the Cairo Opera House. It is also a very important learning experience for the players themselves.”

Through twice-a-week orchestra trainings, Awtar Quartet’s teaching methodology works on development of individual skills and underlines maintaining harmony through teamwork. “This strategy allows each of the players to recognise their role and importance in the collective performance,” Saleh explains, adding that students are taught the traditions of a real orchestra.

He believes that through developing the players in an academic manner they are also deepening their understanding of music, and can go on to achieve many goals.

Nina Kamal, 30, decided to work a morning shift to give time for her love of music. She has been playing violin, an instrument she named Olga, for nine years. “The Osiris String Orchestra taught me commitment and helped me reach my ultimate potential. The hard work through performance and practice is very inspirational,” Kamal commented.

The orchestra is probably the biggest project Awtar Quartet is working on now. However, as the quartet keeps moving forward, exploring all possible territories in reaching out to new audiences, Saleh reveals that they already plan events where classic music will be braided with storytelling, an approach they have already explored and which proved very successful in reaching out to younger listeners. This time, Awtar thinks of using similar methods to reach older audiences as well.

On the other hand, Awtar Quartet is also discussing an option of playing music for autistic people. “We are at the stage of studying their ages, needs and interests, so we can deliver the right type of music.”

Osiris String Orchestra is not the first cooperation between Awtar and Osiris Centre or Omar El-Moataz Bellah. Last year, Awtar performed in a theatre play, Pipi Longstocking (or Janan), directed by El-Moataz Bellah, staged during the 6th Hakawy International Arts Festival for Children.

Friday, 17 March, 8pm
Gosor Centre, All Saints Cathedral, Zamalek (behind the Marriott Hotel), Cairo

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