x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Bechara El Khoury creates a sound that bridges cultures

The French Lebanese composer's Poème Orientale is a bridge between East and West.

Bechara El Khoury's Poème Orientale is his Gulf debut. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Festival
Bechara El Khoury's Poème Orientale is his Gulf debut. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Festival

The world premiere of Poème Orientale is a year in the making.

The French Lebanese composer Bechara El Khoury's commissioned 15-minute orchestral work is scheduled to debut tomorrow before the Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel takes the stage.

El Khoury says the idea for the piece took shape when he visited the Abu Dhabi Festival last year. Seeing the set-up of the Emirates Palace Auditorium and observing the onstage action was a turning point for Khoury.

"It was really inspiring," he says. "I came to the festival to see how it ran but once I was there, the piece really grew in my mind. I already began writing it before I came but to see how the festival runs at a world-class level was inspiring for me."

Poème Orientale also marks El Khoury's Gulf debut; he has mostly performed in Europe, America and Lebanon.

He admits his surprise about being invited to the Abu Dhabi Festival, which he describes as proof that classical music is appreciated in the region.

"I never thought I would play here to such an audience," he says. "But also now when I play in festivals in Europe, I see many Arabic people in the audience and I find that incredible."

Born in Lebanon, El Khoury began to play the piano at the age of 4 and, by 12, he was composing his own works.

Arriving in Paris as a 22-year-old in 1979, El Khoury built a respected career as a composer, with works performed by the likes of the Orchestre National de France and the London Symphony Orchestra.

El Khoury describes his Lebanese background as a key feature in his sound.

"What I am trying to do is not fusion," he says. "It's more of bridge between oriental and occidental music."

Given free reign with his Abu Dhabi Festival commission, El Khoury says Poème Orientale explores this cross-cultural theme even further.

With rehearsals held in Prague and one final run-through in Abu Dhabi, El Khoury hopes the finished product triggers the audience's imagination

"When you first hear it you can imagine the deserts, the water and the mountains of East and West.

"It is very poetic music," he says.

Bechara El Khoury's Poème Orientale will be performedtomorrow at the Emirates Palace Auditorium at 7pm. Tickets cost from Dh250 at www.timeouttickets.com

sasaeed@thenational.ae

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