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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Successful MSO Debut

موسيقى, عقاب موسيقى, عقاب
Saudi's Muslim Symphony Orchestra wraps up triumphant
First Season Tour

December 30, 2007
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Overwhelmed by jubilant throngs of eager fans, estimated to be in the tens of thousands, many of whom had been patiently waiting since early this morning, nearly one hundred exhausted but exuberant members of the Saudi's fledgling Muslim Symphony Orchestra, accompanied by a beaming maestro Sheik Ali Jadid Muhammed, deplaned from their silver SAA 747 and stepped onto the tarmac at Riyadh’s King Khaled International Airport this afternoon at 2:45 pm amid heavy police security. Unconfirmed reports of a planned attack by Israeli suicide bombers appeared to do little to dampen the festive atmosphere of this triumphant and long-awaited homecoming celebration.

Returning from their whirlwind first season Middle Eastern regional tour, the MSO’s renowned music director and founder, the venerable seventy-eight year old Sheik Ali, was greeted warmly by Crown Prince Faisal al Faisal, accompanied by his large retinue, comprised of various government officials, high-ranking military officers, and his own personal entourage of thirty-three of his forty-two wives and all but four of his fifty-seven sons. Speaking on behalf of the Royal Family, Crown Prince Faisal expressed his deep appreciation of the spectacular success of the Kingdom’s first pan-Arab Muslim symphony orchestra.

Following a short speech by the Crown Prince, conductor Ali Muhammed was presented with the coveted Royal Order of the Silver Palms for his exemplary service to the Kingdom. Immediately after the completion of the awards ceremony, Sheik Ali and the other members of the orchestra were whisked away in waiting limousines, under heavy police security, to the Golden Tulip Riyadh Palace Hotel, where they will have a chance to rest and freshen up in preparation for this evening’s planned gala festivities at the Royal Palace.

"It is our fervent hope", conductor Ali Muhammed opined in a short interview granted to Al-Jazerra TV upon his arrival at the luxurious and heavily-guarded Palace Hotel, "that through this universal language of music, we can bring our message of love and peace to this troubled region, and eventually perhaps to the rest of the world."

Born in the summer of 2005 from an informal conversation over tea and cakes between Maestro Ali Muhammed and the Saudi Minister of Culture, Prince Ibn al Faisal, this bold and innovative concept of an all-Arab Islamic symphony orchestra went from casual idea to full-fledged reality in just a little over one year. A dream fulfilled, the world-class MSO now boasts a full compliment of seventy-two accomplished musicians and almost two-dozen support staff.

In December 2006, plans were drawn up for the nascent orchestra's ambitious Middle Eastern Regional Premier Tour. Encompassing seven cities in six separate countries, the MSO's First Season inaugural began on March 15, 2007, with their debut performance at the glittering Prince Ali Palace in the ancient Saudi coastal city of Jeddah. Over the next nine months, the MSO would perform a continuing series of concerts to sell-out crowds in Cairo, Gaza City, Mogadishu, Kuwait City and Baghdad, finally wrapping up their wildly successful First Season sojourn with an extraordinary command performance for Syria's youthful and enthusiastic President Dr. Bashar al-Assad and family at the beautiful and historic Azem Palace in the capital city of Damascus.

Restricted by Shari'a law to an all-Islamic venue, the MSO's inaugural series none the less boasted an impressive array of talented Muslim composers and performers from throughout the Middle East and beyond.

To lead off Thursday evening's dazzling command performance, Maestro Ali chose that magnificent but seldom performed Muslim masterpiece, Saudi composer Mahmoud al-Kahlani's monumental Symphony in G, better known as the Saladin Symphony, written to commemorate the famous 1187 Battle of Hattin, when Saladin defeated the Christian King of Jerusalem and reclaimed the holy city for Islam.

The symphony's ominous and somber first movement, centering on a contentious dialogue between the strong sonorous strains of the string section, representing the courageous Muslim warriors, in opposition to the blaring dissonance of the Christian trombones is left intentionally unresolved. The fiery second movement, expressing the violence of the actual battle scene, overflows with the discordant sounds of an embattled orchestra; until finally this swirling maelstrom is magnificently resolved in a rousing crescendo of the final movement, culminating in the triumphant fanfare of the victorious Muslim trumpets.

Before the final note had sounded, overcome by emotion, the predominately male audience leaped to their feet and erupted in tumultuous applause, shouting fervent Encores and Bravos and Allah ak'bars, while from their separated section in the rear of the auditorium, one could hear the rapturous ululations of the women's traditional zaghareet.

Following a short interregnum, during which the audience had an opportunity to regain its composure and settle back down into their seats, the houselights gradually dimmed and an expectant hush fell over the crowd. Silently emerging from the shadows, the solitary regal burqa-clad figure of the legendary Samarra al Jihadi stepped into the spotlight at the center of the stage. At the sight of the beloved, world-renowned Iraqi Mezzo-Soprano, once again the largely Syrian male audience erupted into enthusiastic applause.

Bowing gracefully in acknowledgment of her warm reception, Madame al Jihadi patiently waited for the ovation to subside, then, with great nobility of soul, she subtly motioned to conductor Ali Muhammed, who raised his baton and proceeded to guide the waiting orchestra into those first familiar strains of Abdul Fawzi's poignant and lyrical Islam O' Islam aria from his ambitious 1979 three-act opera Muhammed Slays the Infidel.

Needless to say, Samarra al Jihadi's rich and soulful rendition of Fawzi's famous aria brought yet another riotous standing ovation from the ecstatic audience, many of whom were in tears. The acclaimed Iraqi Diva eventually received no less that twelve curtain calls that evening, before the house lights finally came back on for the Intermission.

After the thirty minute interlude, an excited and reinvigorated audience returned promptly to their seats and eagerly awaited the start the second half of the program, which promised to be even more thrilling than the first.

Finally, after what seemed like ages, once again the lights in the great Azem Palace hall dimmed; then, heralded by a sudden stirring blast of military trumpets, proudly marching in from stage left, dressed in gleaming white robes, signifying their purity, especially flown in the previous day from their humble homes in the wild tribal regions of Waziristan, the much-anticipated, world-famous Mullah Omar Madrassa Boys Choir, formed up at center stage amidst rounds of exuberant applause.

Under the able direction of their enthusiastic and accomplished music director, Sheik Hussein al Zaid, the thirty-two young immaculate Afghan boys, ranging in age from nine to fifteen years, enthusiastically began their a cappella concert with a lively and spirited interpretation of al Jizri's ever-popular folk song "Blood of the filthy Zionists", following this up with a rousing rendition of that perennial Syrian favorite "Lebanon is ours forever!" After an exhilarating twelve song recital, the Madrassa Boys Choir rounded out their wildly successful debut performance for the evening with the fiery Mujaheddin fighting anthem, "Death to the Jews! Death to the sons of apes and pigs!"

Following this evening's spectacular performance, and after a well-deserved rest, the M.O.M. boys would spend the rest of the week as honored guests of President and First Lady Assad, touring the many historic and religious sites of Damascus, before leaving Sunday morning for their long flight home.

Good job boys!

However, by far the most anticipated, and ultimately successful offering of this entire gala command performance was to be the final event of the evening: the special guest appearance of that incredibly popular singing sensation from Gaza City, Gaza Strip, that precocious 11-year-old singing host of Gaza City's most famous children's TV show, "Tomorrow's Pioneers", the vivacious and talented Saraa Barhoum, singing her latest Islamic hit, "We will meet our death with no hesitation!" As expected, the tiny but irrepressible Saraa, wearing her colorful hijab and trademark pink jeans, brought the ebullient audience to their feet. The inevitable curtain calls would have gone on throughout the long night, if little Saraa had not been whisked away by concerned security officials well before the wild applause had subsided.

All in all, one can say without doubt, that the newborn MSO can be justly proud of its unquestionably successful Inaugural Tour. Having, in the words of its eminent founder, Sheik Ali Jidad Muhammed, "through this universal language of music, brought this Saudi message of love and peace to this troubled region". And, one can only hope, "eventually perhaps to the rest of the world".

Bon voyage, our brave little MSO!
موسيقى, عقاب موسيقى, عقاب