Abu Dhabi Festival premiers Symphony of Three, featuring Islamic chanter Mahmoud El-Tohamy

Eslam Omar , Saturday 31 Dec 2022

The Abu Dhabi Festival premiered on Friday their big production of the Symphony of Three: Peace, Love, Tolerance, featuring Egyptian Islamic chanter Mahmoud ElTohamy along with over 300 musicians from 200 nationalities.

Mahmoud ElTohamy
Mahmoud ElTohamy in a shot from the Symphony of Three


The symphony is composed by American composers; Academy Award-winner David Shire, Emmy Award-winner John Debney and Emirati composer Ihab Darwish who won a nomination for the Best New-Emerging Composer award at the Hollywood Music in Media Awards.

“I have chosen to chant a combination between selection verses from Ahmed Shawy’s poem Wuleda Al-Huda (“The Guide Mohammad is born”) as well as Ibn Arabi’s Adeen B-Din El-Hob (“I follow the Religion of Love”) and I introduced it in a way that fits the orchestral arrangement,” El-Tohamy told Ahram Online on Saturday.

As part of the festival’s 19th edition, the project was commissioned last year in honour of the planned Abrahamic Family House that will combine a synagogue, a church and a mosque at the interfaith complex on Saadiyat Island. The symphony has been released on the Abu Dhabi Festival’s YouTube Channel.

“It is a testament to the UAE’s commitment to tolerance and peaceful coexistence, which enables over 200 nationalities to live and work in harmony,” said Abu Dhabi Festival founder and director Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo in a short speech at the beginning of the video.

Symphony of Three: Peace, Love, Tolerance features the Beethoven Academy Orchestra, led by Maestro Diego Navarro, along with international composers, musicians and choirs from diverse backgrounds. The choirs include many renowned soloists like Venezuelan Pedro Eustache (flute/winds), American cellist Tina Guo, Italian pianist Simone Pedroni, American trumpeter Wayne Bergeron, Latin harpist Lavinia, Egyptian Ibrahim Fathi (nai), among many others.

In addition to the oriental drumming troupe, the show includes a choir of about 250 singers from Egypt, Scotland, Israel, Palestine, South Africa, and Lebanon, including Lebo M (South Africa), Sumi Jo (South Korea), Lisbeth Scott (USA), and Olivia Vote, Richard Bernstein and Brenton Ryan from the New York Metropolitan Opera, to name a few.

The 90-minute Symphony of Three is divided into four movements: Earth (Darwish), Peace (Shire), Love (Debney) and Tolerance (Darwish), in which ElTohamy was featured.

“The symphony embodies my artistic mission to spread the Islamic chanting and Arabic Fosha poems in various music arrangements,” El-Tohamy added, thanking the Abu Dhabi Festival’s organisers.

Under the sponsorship of the Abu Dhabi Festival, El-Tohamy has introduced various projects, including his big October concert in sight of the Giza Pyramids, in which he celebrated the release of his 19th album titled “Aneen.” Aneen is the second album – after Rasamtok – in his continuing project to revive the usage of Standard Fusha Arabic in contemporary music.

Most famous for Qamaron and El-Burda and many other traditional poems, El-Tohamy, born in 1979, started his career in childhood by following in the footsteps of his father, the pioneer Sufi chanter Sheikh Yassin El-Tohamy.

He performed Sufi poetry chants at traditional Sunni Islamic events across the country for crowds that sometimes numbered in the hundreds of thousands and at large moulid events in Cairo's Al-Hussein and Al-Sayeda Zeinab districts.

He has collaborated with Egyptian Grammy Award winner Fathy Salama and his band Sharkiat in a project launched in 2018 titled “Sufism vs Modernism.”

He also collaborated on various projects with music producers from younger generations, including Rouh El-Maliha with Molotof, a key player in the Egyptian rap scene most known for Wegz’s hit Dorak Gai.

Graduates of El-Tohamy’s Islamic Sufi Chanting School in Cairo, which he established in 2014, also participated in the Symphony of Three.

Founded in 2004, Abu Dhabi Festival is part of the contribution that the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation makes to the UAE capital’s designation as a UNESCO City of Music, which commissions, produces, preserves and presents works of music and art aims to create rich cultural experiences in the UAE and beyond.

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