Contemporary Music Days: Unique in exploring contemporary music

Ati Metwaly, Thursday 17 May 2012

After launching last year, 'Contemporary Music Days' returns 19-25 May with a wider and more dynamic programme

Gramma – Gardens of Writing -- Cairo Contemporary Music Days 2011 (photo: Sherif Sonbol)

The second Contemporary Music Days, organised by the European-Egyptian Contemporary Music Society (EECMS), will kick off 19 May and will include a number of concerts presenting contemporary music from Egyptian and international composers. The festival, which will run until 25 May, will also offer workshops and lectures related to contemporary music.

The idea of presenting contemporary music to Egyptian audiences was first put to action during the 2009 Alexandria Contemporary Music Biennale, which was held in collaboration with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Inspired by the Alexandrian experience, Sherif El-Razzaz founded the European Egyptian Contemporary Music Society which, in 2011, launched the Cairo-based Contemporary Music Days, with plans to hold the event on a yearly basis.

In 2011, Contemporary Music Days saw a number of interesting events held between 28 April and 3 May at the American University in Cairo only, its downtown and new campuses. Spain was the Mediterranean guest of the festival while the guest of honour was Catalan contemporary music. The festival included a number of concerts from Dutch and Spanish groups, as well as master classes in composition, guitar and percussion.

This year, the second round of Contemporary Music Days will offer a number of music-based activities held in a number of venues in Cairo and in Alexandria. France is this year's guest of honour and accordingly a number of key works from French contemporary music will be performed by Linéa Ensemble, alongside lectures on composition by Thierry Pécou and improvised music by Aliquid band. The festival will also showcase the work of a number of Egyptian composers.

Though the festival comes in the middle of Egypt's first post-revolution presidential elections, Sherif El-Razzaz, general manager and artistic director of EECMS, does not see this as an obstacle. "Timing is linked to a multitude of elements that were taken into consideration over the many months of preparations for this festival," El-Razzaz told Ahram Online.

"In the current political circumstances, planning is not always easy. However, there is no reason to postpone the festival. Especially now, it is important for arts and culture to remain present with their many valuable creative propositions. I believe that Contemporary Music Days is one of the important cultural elements that can find an important place on Egypt's cultural map. Many cultural venues are open and artists need to perform."

This year, the festival has found support from a number of institutions, whether organisational, financial or by providing venues. They include the Foreign Cultural Affairs Office at the Ministry of Culture, the Cultural Development Fund, El-Sawy Culturewheel, the French Institute, the Goethe Institute, the American University in Cairo, The Netherlands Music Centre, and several others.

"Despite all the reshuffles happening within the Ministry of Culture these days, the Foreign Cultural Affairs Office showed stable support for the festival throughout its preparatory months. For its part, the Culture Development Fund extended a very dynamic cooperation this year," El-Razzaz comments, adding that it is under the fund's umbrella that a concert by Therry Pecou and the Egyptian Contemporary Music Ensemble will take place at the Prince Taz Palace on 24 May.

El-Razzaz adds that the expansion of the festival to El-Sawy Culturewheel is also an important indication of the contemporary music genre reaching new audiences. The centre will give it's stage to an improvisation session by Marie Uitti and Ayman Fanous on 21 May followed by an evening of progressive jazz with Aliquid. El-Razzaz comments that the two evenings held at El-Sawy Culturewheel will offer "two different kinds of improvisation, both linked to contemporary music."

Other venues that will host the festival's concerts and workshops include the AUC campuses, the Cairo Opera House, the Hanager Theatre and the Alexandria Opera House.

The Hanager Centre along with the Cairo Creative Centre will host percussion, cello and composition workshops as well as a lecture entitled "Music After 1945: On the aesthetics of contemporary music" by Jürg Stenzl (Switzerland) and Azza Madian, a renowned Egyptian musicologist.

With contemporary music not being among the most popular genres for Egyptian audiences, El-Razzaz might find additional challenges in reaching listeners.

"Contemporary music finds more and more ground internationally," El-Razzaz comments. "We should not let general convictions scare us from presenting valuable cultural propositions to Egypt's music arena. All around the world, audiences appreciate music that carries good values and is well presented. I hope that the Contemporary Music Days can provide an interesting cultural experience to Egypt's audiences and allows them to see a reservoir of international and Egyptian musicians working in this specific sector."

As the festival evolves, El-Razzaz keeps incorporating a wider range of performers. The next again edition of Contemporary Music Days, to be held in May 2013, will incorporate 12 Egyptian contemporary composers. "We always search for new creative propositions by Egyptian and international composers."

Also in 2013, EECMS will introduce contemporary Egyptian composers to French audiences. "We will participate in the contemporary arts festival that takes place in Marseille, Provence, hoping to extend our activities to Paris.  All of the works will be those written after 25 January 2011 and as such will present a new spirit of change.  So far three of the compositions planned to be performed in 2013 will be world premieres," El-Razzaz explains.

Contemporary Music Days Programme

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