In June this year, the young Egyptian violinist Salma Sorour revealed that she had been accepted at the renowned Suisse Romande Orchestra in Geneve, one of the most prestigious in Europe, to perform in the first violin tutti section.
In her post on social media, Sorour stressed, “I’m 20 years old, by far the youngest in the orchestra, so wish me luck!”
Numerous Egyptian musicians congratulated the prodigy, who also thanked the mentors and professors who supported her on her journey and during the audition in Geneve, including Mido El-Shwekh and Medhat Abdel-Salam. Though the announcement was made almost three months ago, Sorour will not start work until October.
The young violinist had already carved out a place on the local music scene, as she performed in numerous concerts; her first solo performance with the Cairo Symphony Orchestra took place when she was only 12 years old. Naturally this was followed by continuous appearances with numerous ensembles in Egypt, at the Cairo Opera House, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the Russian Culture Centre and the American University in Cairo.
Born in 2003, Sorour’s journey with music began when she was very young, and she credits her musical family with those beginnings. Sorour’s mother teaches ney at the Institute of Arabic Music, and her father plays the same instrument at the Cairo Opera, while like her both of her siblings, Amir and Mirna, graduates of the Cairo Conservatory, play the violin.
“I was very young when I started playing. I didn’t really have a preference in terms of the instrument, but I definitely had a connection with the violin and my professor,” she comments, adding that her mother - her biggest supporter, as she says - was behind Sorour’s first steps in music.
“She was the first to teach me how to write music when I was very very young. I couldn’t even write my name in Arabic. My mother had the biggest impact on my career along with my professor Marlis Yunskhan at the Cairo Conservatory.”
Standing on stage came naturally to the young violinist. “I’m used to performing in front of a big audience. I believe my first time ever was in a competition; I was seven years old,” she references a 2010 music competition for young talents organised by maestro Ahmed El-Saedi, where she won first prize. “I wasn’t intimidated and I enjoyed it very much.”
That same year, Sorour joined the Cairo Conservatory. It was later on that she participated in international masterclasses such as the one with Professor Victor Tretyakov in Berlin in 2019 and the one with professor Vadim Gluzman at the Erben Music Festival in Munich in 2022.
During her journey she continued to make achievements. She was only nine-year-old when she became the first Egyptian musician to take part in the Nutckracker Competition in 2012, an International Television Contest for Young Musicians, winning fourth place. She then won the first prize at the music competition organised by the Egyptian Culture Ministry in 2016 and the Nicolas Latif strings competition in 2017.
Undeniably, Sorour is among the most sparkling Egyptian talents, performing in her home country with some international appearances. In 2018, the violinist performed with the Cairo Symphony during their tour in Germany, with concerts at the Konzerthaus Berlin, Berlin’s renowned Concert Hall, and Nikolaisaal Potsdam, a concert hall in Potsdam.
In 2021, she participated in the Pharaohs’ Golden Parade, playing a solo piece composed by Hesham Nazih, accompanied by the Egyptian United Philharmonic Orchestra to the baton of Nader Abbassi.
While she was only 12 when she began performing solo with the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, and those concerts soon became an integral part of her annual schedule. Her most recent appearances with Egypt’s national orchestra were in January this year when she performed Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 77. The Cairo Symphony was conducted by Nader Abbassi in a concert that also included works by Rossini and Liszt.
In fact, Shostakovitch seems to be particularly close to the violinist’s heart. “Shostakovich’s character resembles my own. I understand him very well, since my professor was from Uzbekistan. I am very close to Russian music in general. However, there are a lot of other composers that I enjoy performing too. I listen to countless works and perform many; the more I do it, the more I grow musically, and the more I see the beauty in the compositions. I usually perform works that I fall in love with the first time I hear them.”
Sorour’s repertoire includes numerous challenging works: Violin Concerto by Tchaikovsky, Weiniawski Concerto no.1, Paganini’s Concerto no. 1, Introduction and Rondo Capriciosso by Camille Saint-Saëns, and many others that testify to the violinist’s wide range of musical preferences, since as she says “I find beauty in all the works and all the styles.”
Sorour remains connected with Egypt’s music field. Most recently, she took part in a grand concert conducted by Hani Farahat and staged at New Alamein City.
But as October approaches, it is the Suisse Romande Orchestra preoccupies her. This unique opportunity came somehow unexpectedly, she says. “It wasn’t planned at all. I just applied and I wasn’t sure if I could take the position. I worked very hard and just went for it. Now that I got the opportunity to play in the first violins section, I’m very proud of the achievement and definitely very nervous. I’m looking forward to improving myself more as a musician through this orchestra and the opportunities it offers.”
Being a soloist and playing in the orchestra require a different set of skills. Undeniably the Swiss Orchestra will become a platform of continuous development for the young talent.
“I like playing as a member of an orchestra and this is not the first time for me to do it. It’s definitely different from being a soloist. Being part of an orchestral section requires a totally different way of playing and understanding music. I still seek opportunities to be a soloist. This is just the first step on a long road.”
Though Sorour has achieved a lot in her young age, she remains humble before her special talent, which she calls “a gift from God” and “something I’m very grateful for.”
She adds that “my late professor worked very hard on giving me the opportunities he thought I deserved. He believed in me very much and thought I could do anything so he was always pushing me to be better and better. My ambition to build a career for myself helped too, I believe. It’s important to set your goals high, to always challenge yourself,” she says.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 31 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly