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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 July 2018

Seven Emirati pianists to take part in pioneering Dubai concert

With each all-star pianist symbolically representing an emirate, the production is a UAE first

Fatima Alhashmi, Eman Dohai, Mariam Alshami, Bushra Dohai, Ahmed Alnuami, Hamed Altaee and Mohamed Aljahoori are the featured artists in ‘Seven Emirati Pianists, One Composer’. Courtesy Pictures DCC
Fatima Alhashmi, Eman Dohai, Mariam Alshami, Bushra Dohai, Ahmed Alnuami, Hamed Altaee and Mohamed Aljahoori are the featured artists in ‘Seven Emirati Pianists, One Composer’. Courtesy Pictures DCC

For the first time in memory, seven Emirati pianists will share the stage in an unprecedented classical concert conceived to pay tribute to the Year of Zayed.

For the past 22 years, the Dubai Concert Committee has played an integral role in introducing the arts to the emirates by hosting visiting international stars on a regular basis, most recently with the monthly World Classical Music Series.

Now, for the first time, the committee is turning the spotlight on home-grown performers, with a UAE Local Talents programme taking place at Dubai’s One&Only Royal Mirage on May 11.

Subtitled “Seven Emirati Pianists, One Composer”, the evening presents just that – seven Emiratis performing a series of solos and duets, strafing the classical canon from Bach to Beethoven and Schubert to Scarlatti.

'We need the music to recover and relax'

One of those seven pianists is composer Hamad Ataee, who will be performing a selection of his own works, including a new piece entitled Journey of Life, dedicated to the achievements of Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father.

“Journey of Life shows how the UAE has developed within the past years, with Sheikh Zayed’s vision, and where we have reached now – from desert to a beautiful land with the highest building in the world,” said Ataee, who is also a trained pilot and a police volunteer.

“The main goal of my music is to share happiness, simpli­city and positivity. I think our life is getting busy and we need the music to recover and relax with very positive tunes.”

The concert will be under the patronage of the UAE Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development. Committee founder Brigitta Dagostin came up with the concept as a way to pay tribute to her homeland of more than two decades, symbolically hosting seven Emirati pianists to represent the seven emirates which make up the UAE.

“It’s absolutely a first time for the UAE, and for Dubai Concert Committee,” said the Swiss expatriate. “We normally feature internationally acclaimed musicians.

“[It came] from the Year of Zayed. In honour of the father of the nation, we wanted to contribute with a special concert. What better opportunity than to feature and present local talents, but how to find them?”

Inspired by the Year of Zayed

To aid her quest, Dagostin enlisted the help of Fatima Alhashmi, one of the UAE’s most recognised pianists, who has previously performed internationally in Prague and Minsk, and has shared the stage with the UAE National Symphony Orchestra, Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra and State Chamber Orchestra of the Republic of Belarus.

However, it was in Alhashmi’s capacity as head of the music section at the UAE’s Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development that Dagostin paid a visit.

“She came in with the idea of a competition or a concert for resident artists, which is the first time ever for Dubai Concert Committee,” remembers Alhashmi.

“We have had a lot of performances [in the past], but we are excited this time because it is dedicated to the Year of Zayed, and the concert is hosted by a very professional organisation – DCC.”

Alhashmi – who previously spent four years giving lessons at the ministry’s Piano Centre, and is expecting later this year to gain a master’s degree in Performing Arts Management from Paris-Sorbonne Abu Dhabi – said using western classical music to pay tribute to the father of the nation represents both the sophistication of the UAE’s civilisation, and its reach on the global stage.

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Alhashmi’s performance will form the centrepiece of the concert, sharing a planned half-hour slot with her sister Mariam Alhashmi to collectively perform works by Bach, Brahms, Schubert, Debussy, Faure and Rachmaninov.

Performing in front of a legend

One composition not currently on the programme is Chopin’s Nocturne in D-flat major – a piece Alhashmi has performed in front of the mighty Lang Lang. Inarguably the most famous classical musician on the planet, the Chinese pianist gave a masterclass when in the UAE to perform at the Abu Dhabi Festival 2016.

“It was a dream come true,” she remembers. “The experience of performing in front of a legend was a bit tense, although I was so happy for him to guide me in very small details – and it was my honour that Lang Lang was impressed by my musicality.”

As well as Ataee and the Alhashmi sisters, the concert will feature Bushra Dohai performing works by Bach and Schubert, and her sister Eman Dohai also performing Schubert, and either Bach or Scarlatti.

The evening will close with taster portions of two timeless Beethoven sonatas – the opening movement of Piano Sonata No 17, commonly referred to as The Tempest, and the closing third movement of the Piano Sonata No 14, the ever-popular Moonlight Son­ata – performed respectively by Mohammed Aljahoori and Ahmed Alnuaimi.

Then both pianists will share the keys for a “four hands” rendition of the cancan – a light-hearted cabaret classic which marks a distinct change in tone from the profound gravity of Beethoven.

“My main goal was to make the musicians feel comfortable, and I asked them to prepare their preferred pieces instead of forcing something on them,” explains Dagostin.

“We should not forget this is a concert not only for the audience to enjoy, but also for the musicians to experience performing in front of an audience. It should be the beginning of hopefully many further concerts inside and outside of the UAE. Therefore the mix is very diverse, but even more interesting.”

Dagostin has played an invaluable, influential role in bringing classical music to the emirates. She founded the committee in 1996, under the patronage of Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed, which began hosting a series of free concerts at the Crowne Plaza Sheikh Zayed Road, playing a pioneering role in bringing international performers to the Emirates, long before the Abu Dhabi Festival, which began in 2004.

For several years, the committee hosted monthly free concerts at Ductac, filling a vital hole for regular year-round classical performances during the three-year absence of Abu Dhabi Classics from 2011, the same year that the committee was recognised with the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Patrons of the Arts Award.

Since 2014, the committee has hosted the ticketed World Classical Music Series at the One&Only Royal Mirage, previously in partnership with promoters M Premiere.

Exposing more Emiratis to classical music

For years, Dagostin was an outspoken advocate for the establishment of a purpose-built classical music venue in the Emirates – a dream finally realised with the opening of Dubai Opera in 2016, which ironically served to dislodge the committee’s near-exclusive market share for classical music in the emirate.

But there is still a long way to go, and next on her wish list is a music school to further nourish the kind of home-bred talent we will see performing at tomorrow’s showcase.

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“Twenty-two years ago we were the first and absolutely only organisation providing classical concerts,” says Dagostin. “This is due to the wisdom and foresight of Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed and Sir Maurice Flanagan, the founders of the classical music scene here in the UAE.

“The concerts were free at that time to give everybody an opportunity to join and experience the elevating language of music.

“Now we have an opera house in Dubai, Abu Dhabi Classics, the Abu Dhabi Festival, just to name a few. But we still miss a famous music university, like [New York’s] The Julliard School or Vienna Academy.

“What is in the future? To expose more Emiratis to classical music, to engage them better and give them the chance and courage to be part of the music scene, locally and internationally.

“This is exactly what I am trying to do, and with the necessary support we will manage.”

The World Classical Music Series featuring UAE Local Talents takes place at One&Only Royal Mirage, Dubai, on May 11 at 8pm. Tickets from Dh158 at platinumlist.ae