The Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra

Sultan Qaboos loves classical music, above all Mozart, so it is hardly surprising that by 1985 he had already decided to found a national symphony orchestra. However he didn’t simply engage foreign music professionals, but decided to establish an orchestra made up of Omanis – still unique in the Arab world.

The Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra at Berlin 2007

In 1985 there was simply no one in the whole country who could play a suitable instrument, even rudimentally. The first step was to scour the country and seek out musically gifted children and give them the opportunity to attend a boarding school where, alongside normal lessons, a musical instrument would be taught. After graduating from school those who had really developed into musicians were not sent to Europe or America for further studies but were taught by highly-qualified teachers specifically brought to the Sultanate for the purpose. The intention was to prevent the young musicians spending their most impressionable years abroad and thus running the risk of losing touch with their own culture.

Over the years the children of 1985 and thereafter have grown into an orchestra fit to be taken seriously. The first performances took place in the Sultan’s private circle – he even liked to conduct them himself – before they ventured before the Omani public. At the beginning of the new millennium there followed appearances in the Gulf Region. In 2007 the orchestra performed for the first time in front of the critical and musically pampered followers of classical music in Europe at the Young Euro Classic festival as part of the European Music Summer in Berlin.

August 10, 2007 was to be a memorable day for both musicians and public. The Berlin Konzerthaus was full to the rafters, with Deutschlandradio broadcasting the event live. As the orchestra took up their positions the public first saw female musicians in Omani national costume – bright green dress, red headscarf and gold head jewelry. It may also have been a novelty for many that the young women were represented in all sections of the orchestra including percussion. They were not restricted, as in many European orchestras, to string instruments, flutes and harp. Women even made up the majority in the brass section.

The initial nervousness of the musicians before the gigantic backdrop of the full concert hall was soon replaced by the sheer joy of performing as they registered that the audience were responding to their playing with increasing fascination and enthusiasm.

The official part of the concert was brought to an end with a composition by the young Omani Hamdan Al Shuaily, The Blessed Renaissance, in which he used musical means to reflect the rapid development of the state of Oman from 1970 to the present day. The work, written for a large symphony orchestra with great feeling, combines traditional Omani folk music with Western compositional techniques.

The music critic of the German daily, the Berliner Zeitung, summed up the evening: unanimous applause – enraptured applause going on for several minutes – continuous applause with cries of "Bravo!" at the end – a thunderous, passionate standing ovation from the audience.

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