x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Irish youth concert underlines Dubai's multicultural good fortune

A visit by the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland to mark the emerald isle's feast of St Patrick, brings home the privilege of growing up in the UAE, where so many cultures mingle freely.

Living in Dubai, one gets used to its vibrant, multicultural spirit. On March 17 – the Irish feast of St Patrick’s Day – our school secured invitations for its music students to attend a concert by the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland.

It struck me how fortunate we are, as a group of young people from all over the world, to be able to celebrate an Irish national holiday with traditional music while in a country in the Middle East. There probably aren’t very many cities where teenagers have the opportunity to interact with people from such varied backgrounds. The honeypot of musical, artistic, sporting and literary talent that the UAE is becoming presents us with the chance to grow into quite open-minded individuals, and most of us have no hesitation about joining in festivities with our counterparts from different parts of the globe.

One of our teachers used to be part of the Irish National Youth Orchestra when he was a teenager, so he was looking forward to the performance that night probably even more than we were. What I love most about classical concerts is just how deliciously posh they are, and even if you aren’t a particularly keen aficionado of orchestral music, it’s hard to resist an excuse to fish out your under-worn evening dresses from the back of the wardrobe.

The venue was the Madinat theatre in Souk Madinat Jumeirah, which I hadn’t visited before (anything housing boutiques outside the price range of H&M usually doesn’t feature on my mall radar). The least enjoyable bit of the whole excursion was getting there. Traffic on a Thursday evening is never exactly light, but taking half an hour to crawl about 100 metres was simply hair-tearingly frustrating, and I would not have taken it well had we missed the beginning of the concert; it upsets the balance of the programme completely. Our early start paid off, however, and we arrived with a bit of time to spare – just enough to have a look around the souq before the performance.

The magical Arabian Nights atmosphere was lovely; there were stalls where you could have your name written in sand art inside glass bottles, and shops straight out of Disney’s Aladdin. The souq was separated into areas with names such as “Bastakiya” and “Deira” – names of old Dubai neighbourhoods. I even got to pet a falcon which turned its beak up at me disdainfully as I tentatively poked its head with my index finger.

At the entrance to the theatre, about five people spent a good 15 minutes looking for my name in a five-page guest list they had, couldn’t find it, and with typical Irish goodwill, decided that the fact I had an invitation card was good enough and effusively ushered me through. For once, we had managed to procure seats right at the front. The theatre itself has decent acoustics, and it was stunning with its little Arabian embellishments. The feel of St Patrick’s Day, though, didn’t kick in until the orchestra had tuned up and launched into the first piece, Irish Destiny by Micheal O’Suilleabhain, conducted by Gearoid Grant.

The composer himself was at the piano, the sections were in perfect harmony with each other and it was all quintessentially Celtic. I had more than a few pouty “not fair!” moments because this didn’t happen to be just another famous national philharmonic orchestra – it was a youth orchestra. Which meant that all the members, except the pianist and the conductor, were aged 12 to 18 years and they were all nauseatingly good, and you can’t use age as an excuse to explain away why they’re better than you.

There was a 15-minute interval during which I gulped down as many of what looked like pieces of chicken on crackers as I could; an hour and a half of listening to music helps you work up a healthy appetite. The second, shorter piece they played, The Brendan Voyage by Shaun Davey, featured Liam O’Flynn, captivating on the uilleann pipes.

It was, on the whole, a joyful mingling of cultures: the sense of pride the orchestra felt in bringing a piece of the Emerald Isle to a Dubai audience was palpable. Mr Grant, the conductor, was resplendent in a waistcoat with acid-green lining for a sense of occasion. The chairman of the ensemble, John Dennehy, smugly informed us that they had succeeded in getting a giant shamrock projected on to the Burj Al Arab.

It wasn’t just a musically enriching experience, but, for one enjoyable evening, gave us a taste of another way of life – and that’s not just a lot of blarney.

 

• The writer is a 15-year-old student in Dubai.

 

 

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