At the Symphony

We went to a performance of the Muscat Symphony Orchestra Wednesday night.  First, here is what the official Facebook page says about the symphony and its history.  Then I’ll tell you my story.

“In 1985 His Majesty directed that a Royal Symphony Orchestra be formed under the aegis of the Royal Guard of Oman. The project was unique from the outset, because unlike every other venture where Western classical music was introduced for the first time to a country, only Omani nationals are employed as players. There has been no support from experienced expatriate performers except in a teaching capacity. Moreover it was decided that all training should take place in Oman rather than in a foreign country, in order that the young Omanis selected remain within familiar surroundings.

The ROSO gave its inaugural concert on 1st July 1987, only one year after the beginning of music training. The first public concert followed on 5th July 1988 and both concerts were attended by His Majesty the Sultan in the Oman Auditorium in Muscat.

Initially all players were boys, but in November 1988 girls joined for the first time. During the following years the standard of achievement has risen steadily and demand for the ROSO has grown considerably. As well as performing an important personal service for His Majesty, Oman is one of the few countries in the world where distinguished visitors are greeted by live performances of classical music. The ROSO has a lively series of public concerts each year. These events bring to Oman classical masterpieces, often for the first time, as well as distinguished international soloists and conductors.”

The concerts are held in the auditorium at the Al Bustan Palace Hotel, a beautiful 5-star  establishment with every amenity you can dream of.  It is situated on 200 acres of park-like gardens, pools and beaches (1 km long, private).  The hotel and auditorium have been recently renovated… I did a search but couldn’t find out  much about the old facilities.  it is the Sultan’s hotel… I’m told he has the top floor and official guest stay there.

Anyways, I’ll show more of the hotel another time…. just setting the stage.

We drove with friends, and after picking up our tickets at the box office, we went to the piano bar for a pre-concert drink.  We met two other couples there, and had a very enjoyable hour with interesting people.  Alister is working his way down the martini list…. that night her ordered a “dirty” martini…… and was less than impressed… it is made with the juice the olives are preserved in, and looks a bit like engine oil.  He knows now he won’t order that one again, and the rest of us have learned by his experience.

Now, before we go any farther, I want to make sure you understand that I am a music LOVER, not critic or connoisseur. I like to let the notes wash over me, the melodies float around me….. I do not like to pick a performance apart, be it good, bad, or mediocre.  I can listen to a beginner band stamp their way through “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and enjoy it, because I know that in another 6 months you will be able to hear the music in their playing.

It was so nice to see an orchestra not ALL dressed in black and white.  The men wore the requisite tuxedos, but the ladies were very colourful.  The wore tunics of jade green with leggings of fuchsia.  On their heads, they had scarves of fuchsia with gold trim, and wide gold bands over their foreheads. This is from their FB page… I took photos, but my iPhone was confounded by the bright stage lights and they didn’t turn out.

The auditorium is quite large, and the acoustics are very good.  comfortable seats.  Unfortunately, David is still coughing from his cold, so he snuck out before the end of the Holst “Beni Mora”.  It sounds like quite a challenging piece, but they handled it well. 

Next, the young Italian violin tutor for the orchestra, Luca Blacio, treated us to “The Lark Ascending” bu Vaughan Williams.  Lyric and very lovely, it was very well done, and he took several bows to the enthusiastic audience.  Then, the brasses returned to finish the half with “Matinees Musicales” by Benjamin Britten.  This featured the harp as well as quite a lot of percussion… very melodic an enjoyable.

Intermission found us congregated in the lobby, with free drinks (wine, beer, juice) and abundant conversation among friends.  David decided to remain down there rather than risk having to walk out on the main feature in the second half.

British cellist, Richard Harwood, gave a star performance of Elgar’s concerto in E Minor.  The sweet lyricism of the high notes… the growling resonance and drive of the darker passages…. both made this a performance to remember. Harwood is quite young, and has an impressive list of performances, awards and recordings to his name already. 

It has been a long time since I have been able to attend a symphony concert.  I enjoy bands and winds, but, gosh, I do love the strings, and especially the deep, throaty voice of the cellos.  Two of my children took Suzuki cello lessons, and I had the opportunity to play a bit myself…. I was not that good and didn’t have the time I wished to practice, but I loved it.  I like to sit fairly high in the auditorium so that I can see the whole orchestra, and watch the melodies being thrown from one section to another.

This was an incredible evening, and I can’t wait for the next performance.

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