Two musicians, the late conductor Ali Osman Al-Haj from Al-Nour Wal Amal Chamber Orchestra and the ensemble's violinist and leader Basma Saad, were honoured during the inaguration of the 26th edition of Citadel Festival for Music and Singing, on 12 August.
Ali Osman Al-Haj (also known as Ali Osman), a Sudanese composer, conductor and educator, passed away 16 February 2017.
Among his most precious accomplishments was his work with Al-Nour Wal Amal Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble operating under Al-Nour Wal Amal Association and consisting of visually impaired and blind women musicians.
Osman took charge of the orchestra's development in the early 2000s, following the death of their first mentor, music director and conductor Ahmed Abul Eid.
Based in Egypt, to where he arrived from Sudan to attend the Cairo Conservatory in 1978, Osman later lectured on music composition, theory, analysis, counterpoint, and harmony at the same institution.
As a researcher, his specialty was music from Sudan. He held a Master’s degree and a PhD on the subject of "Arabic Rhythmic Patterns and their Role in Constructing Melody in Traditional Arabic Music."
From 2006 to 2008 he was artistic director of the Cairo Opera House Library.
Among his honours are Third Prize in the competition Abu Bakr Khairat of the Ministry of Culture in Cairo (1995, for Song for Chamber Orchestra) and a scholarship from the organisation Pro Helvetia (2000). His music has been performed in Austria, Egypt, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and the UK.
His role as a conductor of Al-Nour Wal Amal Chamber Orchestra has been taken up by Mohamed Saad Basha who until recently was in charge of the Association's junior orchestra.
Ali Osman Al Haj minutes before the Nour Wal Amal Orchestra's concert in Hamburg, 2013 (Photo: Ati Metwaly)
Violinist Basma Saad is the leader of Al-Nour Wal Amal Chamber Orchestra, taking also the role of soloist in many performances.
In one of her 2012 interviews for Al-Ahram Weekly, Saad revealed that music has always been her passion.
She explained that even as a very young child she was always surrounded by toy instruments at home and music always attracted her.
"I always wanted to study music. Having passed the assessment test, the professors decided that the violin would suit me best. My academic studies allowed me to embrace my passion and gain a fuller understanding of music," she said in the interview.
Violinist and the orchestra leader Basma Saad sits at the head of the string section. Guangzhou Opera House, Guangzhou, China, August 2017 (Photo: Ati Metwaly)
Al-Nour Wal Amal (Light and Hope) Chamber Orchestra consists of over 40 visually impaired women. They represent Al-Nour Wal Amal Association founded in 1954 by a group of volunteers under the leadership of the late Istiklal Radi. Soon after, Radi founded the Music Institute for the blind girls, trained by the musicians and professors from the Cairo Conservatory, the College of Music Education of Helwan University, and the Cairo Symphony Orchestra.
Their first performances in Egypt took place in the 1970s and included concerts at the Old, Khedivial Opera House. In the 1980s, and on the initiative of Amal Fikry, vice-chair of Al-Nour Wal Amal Association, and the main dynamo of the ensemble until that date, the orchestra embarked on international tours.
Ever since, Al-Nour Wal Amal Chamber Orchestra has performed extensively in Egypt and has 31 international tours to their name, and since the early 2000s were always accompanied by Osman.
The orchestra has just returned from a tour to Hong Kong and China (1-8 August) where they were conducted by Saad Basha.
The Citadel Festival for Music and Singing also honoured Tahia Shams Eldin, Ali Osman's widow and a well-accomplished soprano in her own right, and member of the Cairo Opera Company.
Other honorees of the inauguratory evening also included Abdalla Saad, theatre and opera director; harpist Manal Mohie Eldin; religious chanter and composer Ahmad Abdalla; Lamia Zayed, dean of the Cairo Ballet Institute, Academy of Arts; Hussein Badawi, former head of recitals of the Cairo Opera; and Reda Wakil, former artistic director of the Cairo Opera House and opera singer.
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