Thirty-six world-renowned and up-and-coming composers will blend contemporary composition with traditional Arab and Egyptian instruments during Heritage and Modernity, a week-long music festival set to kick off Monday in downtown Cairo.
The festival will go from April 11-14 at the AUC Tahrir campus, and is presented by the non-profit organization European-Egyptian Contemporary Music Society (EECMS).
“This event will be an interaction between world famous composers with traditional Arab and Egyptian music and musicians,” says Sherif el-Razzaz, the manager of EECMS, which also hosts an annual Cairo Contemporary Music Days. Many of the works that will be performed have been specifically composed for the event, which is slated to provide an avant-garde sound and experience.
Heritage and Modernity is a creative caldron that will fuse modes of music that are not typically considered in the same sphere. This mingling of contemporary composition with traditional Arab and Egyptian instruments and musicians is expected to yield interesting results that are likely to inspire.
"We have been trying to spread contemporary music in Egypt for the past five years,” says Tarek Krohn, the ECCMS program director. "The idea was to get first-class contemporary music ensembles to perform here in Egypt and spread this music on a very high level so people could get into touch with this music and understand it better,” says Krohn. However, this idea has greatly evolved. Since 2011, ECCMS has commissioning numerous Egyptian composers to create new pieces to fashion a new Egyptian musical repertoire. EECMS also founded the Egyptian Contemporary Music Ensemble, which is now performing worldwide.
But even with all of these achievements, ECCMS was still left with the question of how to get the Egyptian public interested and better understand contemporary music, says Krohn. The answer pointed to integrating Arab and Egyptian culture into contemporary music. The idea is beginning to pay off.
"Our popularity in Egypt is increasing tremendously and there are so many people who are now interested in co-production,” says el-Razzaz. Thus, Heritage and Modernity will serve as the next step in the evolution of Egypt’s contemporary music scene.
The most recent instalment of Cairo Contemporary Music Days, which took place this past July, provided the impetus and inspiration behind the collective push to further integrate contemporary music with traditional Arab instruments. A master class at the event, which was led by the eminent Italian-Swiss composer Oscar Bianchi, was predominantly composed of oud players, an instrument often neglected by contemporary composers. This seminar served as an inspiration for Bianchi, el-Razzaz and Krohn, who believed the new-found interaction was on to something incredibly valuable to Egypt and the greater musical community. The class served as a catalyst for EECMS to broaden the event and make it accessible to as many composers as possible, said el-Razzaz. Thus Heritage and Modernity was born.
Better-established composers like the Syrian Zaid Jabri (who made his London Royal Opera debut in 2015), will host master classes for up-and-coming composers aimed to inspire them to write works with some Arab influence, Krohn says.
Bianchi will debut a piece composed for two ouds and inspired by a poem by the ancient Arab Al-Mutanabbi. Bianchi’s piece will likely be unique and challenging for the musicians. The two oud performers will be performing different contemporary melodies to create a unified piece of music, which may well be the first time this has occurred in Egypt. “It is going to be really exciting,” Krohn says.