Beethoven against all odds: Cairo Symphony Orchestra to perform Missa Solemnis

Ati Metwaly , Wednesday 16 Dec 2020

Conducted by Ahmed El-Saedi, the Cairo Symphony Orchestra is preparing to perform Beethoven's Solemn Mass, a grand work often staged around Christmas time


The year 2020 was not a fortunate one for Ludwig van Beethoven whose 250th birthday was supposed to be celebrated all around the globe.

As early as 2019, international orchestras prepared rich programmes showcasing Beethoven's wealth as one of the world's best-known composers.

Everything was going well, until the COVID-19 pandemic closed the doors of thousands of music venues, suspending concerts, operas, and many other activities.

The same predicament befell Egypt which, since the beginning of March 2020, had to halt many concerts, interrupting any celebration of Beethoven’s birthdate.

At that point, Ahmed El-Saedi, the principal conductor and music director of the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, was already in the middle of preparations for the celebration.

"The celebratory year included many interesting works: five piano concerti, nine symphonies, the Oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives, while Fidelio, for which El-Saedi was bringing an international cast including expatriate Egyptians," El-Saedi said in June.

“We have finished the concerti, performed alongside other composers fused into the programming. We also performed Symphonies no. 1 and 2. The decision to suspend all activities came when we were in the first rehearsal for Eroica — Beethoven’s Symphony no 3,” El-Saedi added.

However, when music activities began returning in July, the orchestra started performing in some concerts.

El-Saedi is now preparing for Beethoven's Missa Solemnis (A Solemn Mass) in D major Op. 123. The performance will take place on Saturday 19 December at the main hall of the Cairo Opera House.

In fact, El-Saedi planned for the Mass to close the celebrations on 16 December, commemorating the composer's date of birth: 16 December 1770. 

Beethoven's Missa Solemnis is one of the composer's best-known works. In it, Beethoven set considerable requirements for both the singers — four soloists and the choir — and the instrumentalists, which means that only the best ensembles can hope to perform this work.

Beethoven worked on this Mass between 1819 and 1823, hence it is one of his last compositions, written in parallel to such great works as Symphony no. 9.

Abundant in sharp contrasts of dynamics, harmony, and pace — a characteristic of Beethoven's late style — the composer keeps all the musical expressions consistent and engaging throughout the 80-minute piece.

The Mass was dedicated by Beethoven to his friend, pupil, and patron Archduke Rudolf of Austria, archbishop of Olmütz, to celebrate his enthronement as the archbishop. The event took place in 1819, when the composer had not completed it yet.

The work was performed in full for the first time four years after Rudolf’s inauguration.

The character of this monumental work, whereas Catholic liturgy is combined with contemplative prayers and strong expressions, makes it a favourite during Christmas time.

In the upcoming performance, on 19 December, the Cairo Symphony Orchestra will be conducted by El-Saedi. The stage will also be taken by the A Cappella Choir, led by Choir Master Maya Gvineria. The soloists include soprano Iman Mostafa, mezzo soprano Jolie Faizy, tenor Amr Medhat, and bass-baritone Reda El-Wakil.

The Cairo Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1959 by its first music director and conductor, Franz Litschauer.

The Khedivial Opera House served as its first home. 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 70s and 80s, the Cairo Symphony Orchestra included mainly foreign musicians and only a few of the best fresh graduates of the Cairo Conservatory — which opened in 1959.

In 1988, the orchestra moved to the newly built Cairo Opera House.

Over the past half-century, the Cairo Symphony Orchestra 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. 

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