Music in the Studio is a monthly series of chamber-music recitals starring banner names including Tasmin Little, Alexander Ghindin and Guy Johnston
Amira Fouad on Dubai Opera's Music in the Studio season
Since its grand launch almost exactly one year ago, Dubai Opera has brought some of the world’s biggest and best musical names to the UAE. Now, moving into its second year, the youthful institution is beginning to fulfil its promise of nourishing the Emirates’ own grass-roots cultural community.
Among the first fruits to flourish will be the recently announced Music in the Studio, a monthly series of chamber-music recitals starring banner names including Tasmin Little, Alexander Ghindin and Guy Johnston, up close in the venue’s smaller Studio space.
But as well as presenting world-class soloists in an intimate environment, more significant is news that each performer will also present educational masterclasses for local musicians and students, fielding audience questions at post-show mingles. It is this community interaction that most excites the series’ curator, Amira Fouad.
“I wanted to be sure the artists are not simply playing a concert and then getting on a plane home – but meeting the audience and contributing something lasting to the UAE community,” says the pianist, who will also perform at two of the concerts.
Music in the Studio will be the first ongoing programme of events to make use of the second-floor performance space, a cosy, modern room with a capacity of 285.
It promises an acoustical intimacy ideal for chamber music – traditionally groups of classical musicians small enough to perform in private homes – which would prove impossible in the venue’s main, 2,000-capacity space.
Fouad compares the Studio to the fabled Elgar Room at London’s Royal Albert Hall, which regularly hosts intimate day-time performances that are accessible to a far wider community than conventional opera audiences – and she hopes that her series can perform the same ambassadorial role in the UAE.
“Many venues across the world have a smaller space that offers a very different experience to what you get in a big hall – something very intimate, and very immediate,” she says. “I remember as a young musician how special it felt to have the opportunity to hear soloists and duets up close, and I’m really excited that now we’re able to share that feeling with people in Dubai and the UAE.”
Symbolically, the first four monthly concerts will each showcase a different classical instrument, partly to offer a wide, colourful palate, but also to ensure the masterclasses reach the widest possible swath of amateur musicians.
“These performers have all had quite interesting careers, playing different instruments, in different styles, and from different backgrounds,” says Fouad, who is also founder and artistic director of Egyptian chamber celebration Festival of the Nile. “I just felt they had a lot to give.”
The series begins on September 13 with a solo recital by Ghindin, the celebrated Russian who made headlines when, in 1994 at the age of 17, he became the youngest-ever laureate of the International Tchaikovsky Competition, hosted in Moscow.
In a nod to his homeland, in Dubai, the pianist will tackle Mussorgsky’s colossal, 10-part piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition, a work of dizzying depth that demands a dazzling display of virtuosity.
“I’m always thinking of the younger generation, and everything a child can learn,” Fouad says. “And there’s so much to learn from meeting a Tchaikovsky Competition winner – for a pianist, it’s like meeting an Olympic gold medallist.”
While she is a renowned concert pianist who has performed across Europe, Asia and North America, Fouad’s appearance at the series will mark her live debut in the country she calls home.
She will perform first on October 4 alongside cellist Johnston, who was established as one of the leading lights of his generation after becoming a BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2000. Sympathetic musical acquaintances, the pair have previously shared a stage performing alongside the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and will here present a programme including works by Beethoven, Fauré and Rachmaninoff.
Likely to sell out first is a November 22 appearance by Little – the prolific violin star who boasts nearly 50 recordings to her name – performing alongside a BBC Proms regular, pianist Piers Lane. Cementing a professional relationship that has developed for 25 years – beginning with 1992 LP showcase Virtuoso Violin – the Dubai concert will double as the regional launch of the pair’s latest release, Franck/Szymanowski/Faure: Chamber Works, which features Franck’s delightful Sonata for Violin and Piano at its centrepiece.
The year is rounded off with an evening of vocal music on December 13 from Welsh soprano Rhian Lois, backed by Fouad, who will curate a programme of operatic arias, art songs and festive tunes.
Such a programme might have been unimaginable in Dubai a short while ago, and Fouad hails the platform created by Dubai Opera as “the single most exciting cultural addition to the Emirates in years”.
Fouad – who was born in Britain to Egyptian parents, and educated in Canada and France – moved to the UAE a year ago, on the eve of the venue’s historic launch.
“As a musician, I was very lucky to arrive here when I did,” she says. “Dubai is a far more vibrant place for local musicians today than it was about one year ago.
“As soon as I arrived, I felt there was a niche that needed to be filled. I’m a pianist, and usually my concerts start with the piano – and there’s a fantastic Steinway grand at Dubai Opera.”
Fouad conceived Music in the Studio following a chance meeting with Dubai Opera chief executive Jasper Hope at the Etihad Museum during Art Dubai in March.
While it is the big names who might be up in lights, most excitement should be generated by the promised masterclasses, which mark the venue’s second active bid to water the roots of the Emirates’ home-grown music since opening. Previously, a series of workshops were held in March as part of the inaugural BBC Proms Dubai, an outreach made in collaboration with the British Council as part of UAE-UK Year of Creative Collaboration.
Hope has pledged that there will be far more efforts to directly engage with the local community soon.
“We will be making further announcements over the course of the coming months about further programmes, about public tours, about securing direct participation from schools in some of our future shows and about investing directly into the musical education infrastructure of Dubai,” he says.
Tickets for all performances are on sale now, priced at Dh150 per concert, or Dh450 for a season pass to all four. For more information, visit www.dubaiopera.com