x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Concerted effort forges partnership between UAE orchestra and AUS choir

The UAE Philharmonic Orchestra and the American University of Sharjah community choir may have sown the seeds for an alliance that lasts far beyond the Christmas celebrations

The UAE Philharmonic Orchestra practising with the American University of Sharjah choir for the Christmas concert.
The UAE Philharmonic Orchestra practising with the American University of Sharjah choir for the Christmas concert.

DUBAI // Standing in front of the 55-piece orchestra that he worked so hard to assemble, Phillip Maier's baton dictates the beat with a passion that resonates far beyond the rehearsal room.

Before putting on four concerts this festive season, beginning with a performance tomorrow night at the Emirates Palace hotel, Mr Maier, 48, the founder of the UAE Philharmonic Orchestra, spent hours creating sheet music for the Overture in G minor by Anton Bruckner.

After failing to find it anywhere in the UAE, he wrote it out himself. It was important, Mr Maier said, so the orchestra could play an interesting, but unusual, repertoire.

"We are a relatively new orchestra and we need space to breathe when it comes to the programme of music we play. We can't touch the music everyone has heard played by the best orchestras in the world because we would be compared, so we have to make the performance special with pieces not so often performed," he said.

The UAEPO, the country's only national symphony orchestra, will be accompanied by the community choir from the American University of Sharjah (AUS) for a classical symphony programme including rare choral pieces by Beethoven and Schubert's Unfinished Symphony. The concert will be repeated in Dubai on Saturday, December 11, and at the AUS next Tuesday.

Although the orchestra receives no sponsorships or funding, Mr Maier and Dr John Perkins, the assistant professor of choral music and the artistic director of the AUS Choral Ensemble, decided to host the concert for free.

"We just wanted to perform, so we put this concert together and decided not to charge for it," Mr Maier said. "Of course we hope people will donate, but the main aim is simply to perform."

On December 10, after the official lighting of the Christmas tree at Emirates Palace, the collaboration will host a festive concert of Christmas carols and classical music.

The programme for A Christmas Symphony will include a repertoire of Christmas carols, a medley of the American composer Leroy Anderson's pieces and a solo soprano.

It will be a co-operative concert to help to promote the orchestra as well as bringing the cheer of the season to classical music fans. "The idea is we all sell tickets and do our bit to promote ourselves. We will all share the profit as well as the rewards," said Maier.

"It is a great way for us to become more visible and of course we get the chance to bring a really nice Christmas concert to the Emirates."

Dr Perkins said the collaboration was significant for the UAE. "This is the first time we have collaborated on a large scale with the orchestra, and it will be one of the most thrilling experiences for the singers in the choir," he said.

"Also, just getting something of this scale off the ground is important for the individuals and the country as a whole."

The AUS choir had worked hard to perfect the German words used in the vocal sections, Dr Perkins said. "This is the first time the students have sung in German, and it is more foreign to them than other languages," he said.

"But we have been rehearsing since September, listening to recordings and doing a lot of drills. They are now able to get their mouths and lips around the sounds."

The AUS choir has 24 student members and 12 adult members, most of whom are Emiratis or expatriate Arabs. Dr Perkins said being part of such a concert would be vital for their education. "As I see it right now, the UAE is lacking a bit in music education. There is a large amount of enthusiasm but not a lot of music in their curriculum. You cannot grow a society of people who are interested in art and music without them being highly exposed to it from a young age so this is very important for the future of the country."

Mr Maier said developing a home-grown classical music scene was one of the main reasons he set up the orchestra five years ago. He said he hoped concerts like these would continue to raise the orchestra's profile, and eventually he hoped to attract permanent funding so he could allow the UAEPO to expand to its full potential.