The frustrations, disappointments and highlights of conductor Steven Lloyd’s time at the Cairo Opera House
The Cairo Symphony Orchestra will soon be saying goodbye to Musical Director and Principal Conductor Steven Lloyd, who will leave his post at the Cairo Opera House on Saturday.
His departure has compelled the 36-year-old maestro to speak candidly about his disappointment and frustration with the Cairo Opera House. During his brief stay, Lloyd witnessed a new height of unprofessional conduct and mistreatment from the senior management of the Opera House. Apparently, diva-like behavior is not limited to the opera singers.
Trouble started soon after this award-winning conductor was appointed to his position at the Cairo Orchestra Symphony in 2005, which consequently made him the youngest conductor in the history of the Opera House at the age of 34. Prior to this appointment, Lloyd served as the guest conductor of the Cairo Symphony Orchestra for two years.
It wasn’t long before the British conductor discovered that there are enormous problems within the Opera House.
“I will not consider coming back here, even as a guest conductor, unless certain elements of management change, declared Lloyd.
Lloyd says he experienced daily battles and constant power struggles. “They only want somebody there who says yes, yes, yes, and goes away; after he is done with his concert, he keeps out of the way and doesn’t cause trouble. Well all I’ve tried to do over the last two years is kick up as much fuss as possible so that the orchestra can get what they need, but it’s not happening, Lloyd told The Daily Star Egypt.
While Lloyd is dismayed with the senior management of the Opera House, he is emphatic about vindicating the Chairman of the National Cultural Center Abdel Moneim Kamel, whom he considers “a rose in between several thorns.
Recently, Kamel was under fire in the Egyptian press. But Lloyd believes that the media is focusing on the wrong person.
“There is a certain small group of people in the artistic fraternity who all have their eyes on the position of chairman of the opera house because it is the summit for an artist in this country, explains Lloyd.
“I have a lot of faith in the chairman, as an artist – he is a dancer, a choreographer. He understands the artistic temperament. It’s a shame because he is a good man. It’s not him you have to question, it’s the people around him you have to question, says Lloyd.
In order for the orchestra to succeed, these people need to be replaced by professionals with experience in running an orchestra well, says Lloyd.
His foremost priority is the orchestra – so much so that he was willing to sacrifice his position at Ampleforth College in Britain and move to Cairo.
When Lloyd found out from a friend and former chairman Tarek Ali Hassan that his request for a contract change, which was discouraged by the Administrative Director, was an easy matter, he realized “That was the moment [he] realized there were very few people [he] could trust anymore. Because I wanted what was best for the orchestra and they didn’t, says Lloyd. The conductor’s relationship with the director went downhill from there. “I was warned at the start of my contract to stay on the right side of her, or face serious consequences, which at first I managed to do. However as time went by I became more and more frustrated with the style of management that the orchestra was being subjected to, so much so that in the end it became impossible to work closely or stay on the right side of her. I had to stand up and fight for my principles and beliefs, which I felt were being grossly violated, says Lloyd.
The young conductor is baffled by the recent unusual events that have plagued the orchestra. Since the departure of Egypt’s eminent maestro Ahmed El-Saedi in 2003, the position of the music director and principal conductor has been occupied by three different conductors in a remarkably short period of time.
Lloyd wonders how an orchestra can develop and become great if you keep changing the principal conductor. Another key to a successful symphony orchestra is to ensure that the principal conductor has power in his position – which has not been the case in Cairo since El-Saedi.
“He [the principal conductor] must have decisions in contracts, he has to have decisions over repertoire, visiting artists, tours, the overall running of the orchestra, says Lloyd, who himself has never had that kind of authority.
In the world’s major cities, principal conductors have control over their orchestras. Why is Cairo different? “Egypt has proven to be a leading nation in the arts, so why does nobody know about the orchestra? Why have there been five principal conductors in five years? Why are they destroying the orchestra? questions Lloyd.
Lloyd only regrets that there has been no appointment of a new principal conductor to replace him after his departure. His concern is mainly for the orchestra which will suffer from a lack of leadership and organization – a crucial component for success.
According to Lloyd, next season’s new guest principal conductor is being wrongly represented as his replacement.
“They are trying to pass him off as principal conductor but he is the guest principal conductor, which means he has no power. Give him the power, put him in control of the whole orchestra, says Lloyd.
“I really am genuinely worried about the orchestra. I really loved working with them, says Lloyd. But for the moment, the future looks bleak.
Yet, not all of Lloyd’s experiences have been negative. He reflects on the highlights, which include his work with the orchestra. “I learned so much about my role as a conductor, and added to my repertoire. The work has been the highlight, says Lloyd.
He is especially pleased with the increasing standards of the orchestra’s performances.He was also charmed by the country and the hospitality of Egyptians. Yet what really impressed him was the sense of humor.
“For a British man, the sense of humor is very different, most of the world does not get the British sense of humor but the Egyptians really do get it, he says. The maestro also finds Egyptians sense of respect refreshing “even if it is not always genuine.
Another remarkable quality of Egyptians is how cultured they are. “I find Egypt full of brilliant people. I don’t think I have ever seen such a concentration of talent in such a small confined area, says Lloyd. He is amazed how one person can be a “doctor, philosopher, poet, composer, and pianist, and great in every one of those areas.
But he is puzzled as to why such talent is kept in the shadows and not in the top positions.
Fed up with daily fights, Lloyd is looking forward to life after the Cairo Opera House. “I am very much looking forward to having a bit of freedom, and not being tied to one position, and not having responsibility.
“Being here was great, but the battles are very grim. So I want to have a break, says Lloyd.
The conductor’s future projects include the creation of a new chamber orchestra based in both Paris and London, as well as organizing a big international concert in London to raise awareness and funding for the struggle against eating disorders. As for Egypt, his experience with management at the Cairo Opera House will not prevent Lloyd from coming back to Egypt, a country has become his second home.
“I feel very much at home here. I think this is a very special place. I feel the people are special and Cairo is special. I have so many friends. I love this country, says Lloyd.
Lloyd vows that his face will be seen again – just not at the Cairo Opera House.