x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

After 17 years, an Emirati virtuoso emerges

Khawla al Rayhi, 8, is the first Emirati to be mentored by the Emirates Youth Symphony Orchestra founder, who has taught the violin to 500 of the UAE's most gifted children.

Khawla al Rayhi, 8, joined the youth symphony orchestra last year after winning a scholarship and hones her talent with daily practise.
Khawla al Rayhi, 8, joined the youth symphony orchestra last year after winning a scholarship and hones her talent with daily practise.

DUBAI //Riad Kudsi has taught the violin to 500 of the UAE's most musically gifted children. But in 17 years of teaching, young Khawla al Rayhi is the first Emirati to be mentored by the Emirates Youth Symphony Orchestra (EYSO) founder.

Mr Kudsi, a Syrian violin soloist who trained in Europe, was approached by 8-year-old Khawla's parents last year. It was the first time an Emirati student had shown interest and, after hearing her play the violin, he immediately offered her a scholarship. "This is the first local girl under my tutelage," said Mr Kudsi, a graduate of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, who began playing the violin at Khawla's age.

"I was very happy to be able to offer her a scholarship." Mr Kudsi's aim for the EYSO has always been to establish it as the UAE's national music conservatory, capable of feeding the best Emirati music talent into a national symphony orchestra, which he hopes will one day exist. With only one Emirati in the school he runs from Dubai Media City, he knows there is still a long way to go. Mr Kudsi said violin lessons are part of music education at government schools and that he is keen to establish links with the Ministry of Education.

"I have had more than 500 children through this school who have already left the country," he said. "If only 10 per cent had been Emirati, we could have had a national symphony orchestra by now. That is what I am trying my best to achieve, but first I need local children to start learning the violin or cello. This is the biggest problem." Khawla's mother, Cristina, and father Saeed share the long journey in rush hour from their home in Ajman to Dubai three times a week for their daughter's music lessons. They are as devoted to her music learning as she is.

"She has theory, practice and now orchestra rehearsal for three hours," Mrs al Rayhi said. "It is very tiring. She studies a lot at school, she doesn't have time to play because she practises every night. She does her homework and then we drive to Dubai. It is about three or four hours in total, but she really enjoys it and we are proud of her." Mr Kudsi has taught violin in several distinguished music institutes around the world and has forged ties between EYSO and the Premier Music College in Prague, which now assesses all of his students' examinations.

"We have the elite of the UAE's talented children and we don't accept [those] who are not committed or those who don't have the talent or ability," he said. "We are open with parents and will say after one or two terms if we think they are wasting their money or our time." This attitude appears to pay off. At least nine of his students have gone on to become professional musicians, some gaining coveted places at prestigious music academies including the Moscow PI Tchaikovsky Conservatory and the Conservatoire de Paris.

While Mr Kudsi is proud of their achievements, he is keen to inspire investment from the UAE authorities into grass-roots musical education for young Emiratis, so that, in the future, such talent remains in the UAE. "Imagine teaching 500 people, and all of them have disappeared," he said. "Of course you maintain a good relationship with them, but you feel that your efforts have gone with them. If you have 50 local children who learn to play well, in 10 or 20 years they will be professional and will hold the music culture here in Dubai or the UAE."

He listed the benefits of a national symphony orchestra as increasing cultural experiences for the population, regardless of class or nationality, improving music education and elevating its cultural status around the world. 

loatway@thenational.ae