Classical music: Cremation or reincarnation?

Daily News Egypt
8 Min Read

The world we live in is struggling to preserve its beauty and artistic values. With the state of our culture on the rocks, classical music falls as one of its first victims. In Egypt, classical music has not only been considered historically and geographically distant, it also doesn’t represent present Egyptians cultural interests.

Egypt isn’t that different from the rest of the world. An impressive number of international researches, books and articles mourning classical music have been released over the past decade. A crisis this is indeed. Awareness of the problem is crucial, solutions and suggestions are imperative, but whining over the much talked about ‘decline’ and ‘death’ of classical music will continue as long as concrete actions are neglected.

Over the past month, I asked a large number of Egyptian audience members to share their views on the state of classical music in Egypt. The questions’ eliminative character didn’t stop over 400 respondents from answering an informal survey on Facebook, attesting to a persisting interest in classical music.

The selected respondents were primarily upper middle-class. Sixty-two percent of the respondents turned out to have no relation to any artistic field on a professional level. The respondents were composed of various age groups with a slightly bigger number in their 20s who provided noteworthy suggestions.

One of the younger respondents, Heba Zohni, said, “I had to go to France to attend a concert of Placido Domingo. We need the famous talented musicians to be invited to Egypt, such as the [Argentinean/Israeli/Spanish composer Daniel] Barenboim initiative. Similar remarks were shared among all other age groups.

Barenboim’s controversial concert was described by many as the best concert of the past season. Many respondents refer to the Cairo Symphony Orchestra as the heart of the classical music scene in Egypt, ranking high several performances of theirs such as “An English Night, Verdi’s “Requiem, “German Composers Concert and the Christmas concerts, to name a few. When choosing the most notable events of last season, Youssef Sadek, an advanced listener, pointed towards a different venue: The Manesterly Palace.

Many respondents are regular attendees of various classical music programs. Others attend periodically. There are many factors that could increase interest of the latter group while introducing new audiences to classical music halls. Aly Farahat, amateur musician, stressed on “the necessity of education, adding that “classical music is not just a luxury; it’s a view of our life. His view is shared by 80 percent of respondents who agree that in Egypt, we need more educational concerts and more music education inside and outside schools.

Lack of general music education can be partially compensated by other initiatives such as special concerts for children and youth, a necessity recognized by 82 percent of respondents, while 73 percent point at the need of music appreciation lectures.

Amr Assaad suggests organizing “street and other outdoor public festivals. Nahed Aref adds that we need more “concerts in squares or gardens so that an average Egyptian can appreciate the beauty of music.

“We need to see more concerts at churches, parks, cultural centers, colleges, says Maha Mohei. “There is no focus on composers’ anniversaries such as Mozart, Haydn, Handel, Mendelssohn. Marouan Moussa recommends initiating a “national day for classical music, and organizing awareness campaigns in schools by volunteers.

Those suggestions bring to mind René Martin’s highly successful classical music festival La Folle Journée (Day[s] of Enthusiasm). Frenchman Martin – artistic director of the Arts Research and Creation Center (CREA) who in 1981 launched the prestigious International Piano Festival in La Roque d’Anthéron – initiated La Folle Journée in 1995 in Nantes. Over the years, the fest turned into one of the biggest, most popular classical music events of the 21st century. Today, the five-day event is organized in various countries, during which dozens of classical music concerts are held in all the available closed and open-air venues.

Understandably, in Egypt, we neither have this kind of an enthusiastic audience nor the capacity for such an extensive organization. But the lesson learned from Martin is his persistence in promoting classical music appreciation. Martin worked hard to persuade artists and institutions of the importance of his idea. He worked even harder to attract an audience through personal involvement in planning all promotional packages and advertisement tools.

Another crucial problem obstructing the formation of a wider audience for classic music in Egypt is lack of information and marketing. “Often website and flyers data are not complete, Sameh Awad notices. At the same time, “all Cairo Opera House Small Hall flyers do not include the program, they just write works by: Beethoven, Bach, etc, Ragui Sami remarked.

Apart from few websites, there is still a vital need for proper and effective marketing strategy. Moreover, “there are a lot of flyers, but they are found only inside the Opera House, Ragui adds. Seventy percent of the respondents agree that the advertisement and marketing scope of the Opera should expand to reach more parts of the city.

Ulrike von Ruecker’s view that “We need [more] listings in daily and weekly newspapers is shared by 83 percent of the respondents. Maha Mohei asks for “more TV and media advertisement about concerts and programs. And of course, “advertisement should be done way ahead of time, Ghada Abu Rahmeh stresses.

No need to keep enumerating all the factors that hinder the development of classical music in Egypt. We’re faced with a failing education system; the average Egyptian’s cultural interests have rapidly shifted towards the mainstream over the past few decades. With all those obstacles, artistic institutions should play a vital role in reaching both existing and potential audiences and elevate their interest in the field. The survey’s primary finding is this: there are still many unexplored channels for effective actions.

Egyptian classical music audience might be small in number but taking their interest for granted is not compatible with values carried by the field. Living in a world dominated by consumerism and commercialism while being challenged by Egyptian realities, we just need to improve efficiency so that this rich artistic heritage will not fade into oblivion.

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