Qatar, land of oil and excess, gives us the first Arabian Gulf symphony
The United Arab Emirates are embracing classical music, but is this anything more than the acquisition of cultural bling
By John Evans
Last week the Arabian Gulf, land of oil and excess, got its first symphony. The Qatar Symphony is a four-movement piece lasting almost one hour and is scored for full symphony orchestra. If I tell you that it's written by an Iraqi composer who once laboured under Saddam's regime, you won't be surprised to hear that it's a patriotic affair of whimsical folk tunes and strident marches. But if I then tell you that it's the first step on a journey to making the Gulf the new capital of high art and of classical music, you may fall off your seat.
Earlier, before the work's premiere at the Ritz Carlton in Doha, I'd watched a gang of bulldozers digging a hole for the planned skyscraper next to my hotel. Their ceaseless, subterranean activity seemed to me an analogy for the Gulf's classical-music scene. Bit by bit, it's taking shape – a conservatoire here, a concert hall there. By the time this new skyscraper is built, the foundations for a classical-music scene will have been laid. But is the Gulf really hungry for the arts, or is it building a cultural theme park?
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