Manasterly Palace director Hisham Gabr reveals ambitious plans for the new season

Ati Metwaly , Friday 15 Nov 2019

Egyptian composer and conductor Gabr talked to Ahram Online about plans to put the Manasterly Palace in the centre of art life in Egypt, as the architectural gem opens for a new season on 15 November

Manasterly palace
Hisham Gabr, Egyptian composer and conductor, director of the Manasterly Palace (left) and photo from one of the halls at the Manasterly Palace (right)

Egypt's historical Manasterly Palace will see its re-opening and launch of the new artistic season on Friday 15 November.

The opening ceremony will include a recital by an Egyptian soprano Amira Selim accompanied on piano by Pascal Rozier.

Behind the activities held by Manasterly Palace is Egyptian conductor and composer Hisham Gabr who assumed the directorship of the Palace as well as the Um Kalthoum Museum, part of the same historic complex, in August of this year.

As Gabr explains to Ahram Online, Amira Selim's recital is just a first in a venue which is yet to host a large variety of artistic events throughout the upcoming months.

"We officially launch the season on 15 November and this year will be divided into two quarters: first from 15 November to 15 February, and second from 15 February to the end of May," Gabr explained to Ahram Online, adding that he already plans for the next season to consist of three quarters (each three months long) of artistic activities.

Situated in the El Rawda island near downtown Cairo, Manasterly Palace is among the most important architectural gems of Cairo incorporating a multiple traditional Islamic architecture styles - Ottoman, Moorish, Persian - in eye-catching and breathtaking halls.

In recent years, the Palace, which was built in 1850, suffered several closures, but it still intermittantly hosted recitals and chamber music concerts.

Among the Palace's treasures is its grand piano, which was played by numerous renowned Egyptian and international musicians.

The new reopening will bring back the audience to the Palace, offering them music and other art genres.

"Its a venue that is by nature specialised in chamber music, something that is not that common in Egypt. We want to endorse and reinvigorate it, and we have already laid down the first season's programme," Gabr clarifies.

"The Palace will incorporate many activities; speaking of music, we will host a variety of Egyptian and international chamber formations and soloists, representing Western classical music, Arabic music, jazz and other genres."

Gabr also revealed a few artistic names which will be featured in the upcoming season, including pianist Yasser Mokhtar, British pianist Adam Heron, French quartet Des Equilibress, singers specialised in Um Kalthoum's repertoire: Mai Farouk, Marwa Nagui, Rehab Motawe, among many others.

The Palace will host The Egyptian Jazz Projekt launched by Ahmed Harfoush with an aim to revive many iconic songs from Egypt's musical history while giving them a swing and jazz colour. "

This would be the first time for Egypt to host the Egyptian Jazz Projekt," Gabr said on the London-based Egyptian musician Harfoush.

"We will have a large selection of well established musicians that our audience will definitely enjoy. However, the Palace will also offer other activities such as film screenings, some of which will be followed by meeting with the filmmakers."

Gabr gave as an example the screening in the upcoming season of Tamer Ezzat's second narrative feature When We're Born.

Some evenings will include screening of 5 short films.

"The first season also includes many lectures on art and music, artistic seminars and discussions hosting or led by renowned artists," Gabr added.

The director also revealed that the Palace will host Music Appreciation Session, a series of 12 lectures on classical music.

The lectures proved extremely succesful during Gabr's directorship of Bibliotheca Alexandrina's Arts Centre (2014 - 2017) drawing large numbers of attendees.

The lectures were repeated under the umbrella of Cairo Opera House in it's Damanhour's location, also to the high interest of audience.

"We'll have an average of three events per week. I am very optimistic about the upcoming season and I hope that the Manasterly Palace will become among the pinacles of art in Egypt," Gabr added.

"I am also looking into a possibility of summer events in the open area that we have within the historic complex."

He added that he is also looking to develop Um Kalthoum Palace, which is located in the same complex.

Manasterly Palace
Grand Hall of the Manasterly Palace

Born in 1972, Gabr graduated from the Cairo Conservatory where he studied flute under Professor Ines Abdel-Dayem, the current Egyptian Minister of Culture. Gabr has composed music and conducted concerts in Egypt and internationally and also served as director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Arts Centre between 2014 - 2017. When he joined the Cairo Symphony Orchestra in the early 1990s, Gabr was the youngest member of the orchestra and still a student.

He later transitioned to conducting, studying in Egypt, France and the USA under such renowned musicians as Christophe Mueller, Dominique Ruits, Jean-Jacques Werner, Chris Kim and Ahmed El-Saedi. In the United States, he was a recipient of the Fulbright Senior Grant and studied advanced conducting techniques. His ongoing work includes regularly conducting Egypt's national orchestras, the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, the Cairo Opera Orchestra as well as many international orchestras (Germsany, Poland, Macedonia, Mexico, Kazakhstan, etc).

As a composer, Gabr has composed music for film, theatre and musicals. The latter genre includes such productions as Praxa and Ibn Battuta, which received widespread acclaim.

Between May 2014 and August 2017, Gabr served as director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Alexandria Library) Arts Centre. During that time he reinvigorated the centre's activities after years of stagnation following the 2011 revolution. Among his major achievements while at the Bibliotheca was the development and expansion of its Orchestra and Choir.

Gabr also brought screenings of Metropolitan Opera Live in HD to the Bibliotheca and presided over the launch of new festivals such as Jazz Tales, BA Contemporary Theatre Festival, and others. The composer also oversaw the expansion of the BA Summer Festival, increasing educational and artistic activities for youth.

In 2018 Gabr was awarded the Knight of the Order of Arts and Culture (Ordre des Arts et des Lettres), a recognition given since 1957 by the French Ministry of Culture for remarkable achievements in the field of arts and literature. Very few Egyptian figures have been awarded the Knight of the Order of Arts and Culture and they include novelist and Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, novelist and journalist Gamal El-Ghitani, visual artist and women's activist Inji Aflatoun and novelist Alaa al-Aswany and most recently theatre director Ahmed El Attar. Also the Tunisian Egypt-based actress Hend Sabry is among the award's recepients.

Hisham Gabr
Maestro Hisham Gabr conducts Bibliotheca Alexandrina Orchestra during the concert featuring Marcel Khalife, 29 July 2016 (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

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