Symphonic Sounds from the Gulf: ADMAF's new symphony for the LSO

Mrs Huda I. Alkhamis-Kanoo
Friday, May 20, 2022

Sponsored content: Mrs Huda I. Alkhamis-Kanoo, founder of the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation (ADMAF) and founder and artistic director of Abu Dhabi Festival discusses the foundation’s new commission for the London Symphony Orchestra which will be streamed on 19 May.

© Robbie McKane / TMRW Co. / Nicky Thomas Media.
© Robbie McKane / TMRW Co. / Nicky Thomas Media.

Nearly three decades ago, I decided to create a music foundation in Abu Dhabi. I was driven by my belief that music is a basic human right and that every child should have a chance to play an instrument, just as every child has the right to learn to draw.  

I was also driven by the fact that music connects nations and cultures. Through music and the arts, we share common values, develop cultural understanding, bring peace, and banish conflict and misunderstanding, which is why I feel so passionately that wherever we are in the world, we have a duty to this generation and to the next to share music and spread its message of peace and harmony.

I am particularly conscious of this in the Arab world where, tragically, we are losing our heritage – music libraries burned to the ground, museums looted in Baghdad, and the destruction of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria. This extends beyond the region as recent turmoil around the world continues to undermine cultural identity.  

Since the inception of ADMAF in 1996, I recognised the power music holds in bringing people together through shared experiences. I founded Abu Dhabi Festival, not only for the people of my beloved city, but for everyone around the world to have the opportunity to discover music by established and emerging talents. Over the past decades, we have been thrilled and honoured to bring some of the world’s great musicians to Abu Dhabi - Bryn Terfel, Nicola Benedetti, Krzysztof Penderecki, Wynton Marsalis, Anoushka Shankar, Ivan Fischer, Lang Lang, Gustavo Dudamel, Joshua Bell, and Joyce DiDonato to name a few.

The presentation of these artists was made even more meaningful by the inclusion of an extensive education programme for children. From the beginning, we have provided opportunities for the next generation to experience music and the arts, to shape creative thinking, spotlight emerging talent, and broaden horizons. From nurturing the talents of young media leaders to rewarding our home-grown talents in the visual and performing arts to empowering tomorrow’s business leaders, we are using literature and music to harness essential soft skills in teamwork, communication, problem solving and critical thinking.

We have achieved great success over the years in bringing the best of the world to Abu Dhabi, and the best of Abu Dhabi to the world, but it was when the pandemic locked the world down that I realised the true potential of making music available virtually through digital concerts. Whether the performance was taking place in Abu Dhabi or Berlin, what really mattered was that the experience was being shared across the rest of the world. As digital technology creates new ways to listen and appreciate music, we embrace this change and welcome opportunities to make music and art accessible to all.

With this in mind, I approached Kathryn McDowell of the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) with an idea for a project unlike any other, inspired by the life of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the United Arab Emirates. The LSO has been coming to Abu Dhabi since 2010, and we explored the idea of recording the fifth symphony of talented composer Mohamed Fairouz in a performance which would be streamed online for the world to enjoy. I was pleased by the LSO’s positive response which led to the recording of Symphony #5 which explores the story of the UAE and its values of peace and tolerance in four movements, Alameen (Worlds)—Shapes, Harmony—The Ummah (Nation), Iqra—Infinite Variations, and Ascent—Line and Illumination, at their home at St Luke’s Church earlier this year. We are excited to be premiering the world’s first broadcast of Fairouz’s symphony on the 19th of May.  

The distinctive musical language of the composer melds Middle Eastern modes and Western structures to deeply expressive effect. Fairouz’s transatlantic upbringing across five continents has given him a uniquely cosmopolitan voice which has inspired previous large-scale works including four symphonies and an opera, engaging big geopolitical and philosophical themes with persuasive craft.

His third symphony, Poems and Prayers, interweaves texts of Arab and Israeli poets with prayers such as the Aramaic Kaddish. His fourth symphony, In the Shadow of No Towers, about American life in the aftermath of 9/11 premiered in 2013 at Carnegie Hall.

Since commissioning the symphony, our country has gone into public mourning, so we have now made this a tribute concert to the President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Khalifa, who made culture and the arts one of the key the pillars of our nation, strengthening its contribution to the international conversation on creativity and innovation. 

It is through new productions and commissions like Symphony #5 and the forthcoming, The Abrahamic Symphony by renowned Emirati composer Ihab Darwish in collaboration with Emmy-winning composer John Debney and Academy Award-winning composer David Shire—which celebrates unity and peace amongst different faiths— that we move forward into the future of classical music.

In these uncertain times we must work together to eliminate prejudice and hostility. People fear the unknown and it is a lack of understanding that leads to enmity. Although there is much progress yet to be made, by connecting people through music we can do our bit to partner with the world to restore harmony and bring cultures, nations, and people together.  

Mohamed Fairouz’s Symphony #5, recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra will premiere on 19 May (7:00pm UK time and 10:00pm UAE time). You can find out more at ADMAF’s website.