Helping Qatar Strike Right Note On World Stage

As the driving force behind the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, executive director Kurt Meister is looking forward to seeing the dynamic organization become a much bigger player in the arena of classical music.

Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra (QPO), the leading professional ensemble of musicians in the Gulf, is at a highly exciting time in its development.

It is now just a little over four years since the QPO, a member of Qatar Foundation (QF), held its gala inaugural concert. Since then, this group of highly trained musicians has proven its caliber as a classical tour de force with its unique combination of Western and Arabic compositions.

While still such a young organization, there are projects in the works that will ensure the music of the QPO reaches a much wider international audience. We have just signed a multi-CD agreement with Naxos, which markets itself as the world’s leading classical music group. We plan to record 12 CDs with the company. Work has already been completed on the master tapes for the first two CDs, and we are looking forward to the first release through this deal by the middle of next year.

These recordings will mark a new chapter for the QPO, being the first time the orchestra’s music will be professionally recorded and widely distributed around the globe. In an equally important development, entertainment giant Universal has offered the QPO the opportunity to record music for film soundtracks.

While specific projects are still to be determined, a new recording studio will be built near the orchestra’s current home at Katara Opera House. This studio will house the best recording equipment available and will be capable of accommodating hundreds of musicians. It is expected to be ready by the middle of 2013.

It’s wonderful to see the progress that has been made since I was asked by QF in mid-2007 to begin the work of forming a new world-class orchestra. My career beforehand had involved the management of several internationally renowned orchestras in my native Germany, including the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, which was recognized as one of the top five orchestras in the world during my tenure.

However, creating a new orchestra in Doha was a whole new challenge.

The message from QF was very clear – they wanted to find the best musicians from around the world to create an orchestra like no other, one that bridged the music of Arabic and Western cultures. The orchestra was envisioned as a leading cultural icon to showcase Qatar as a nation to the rest of the world. That is our mission and our vision.

So, in order to create the orchestra, we placed advertisements in magazines in numerous cities. We received a deluge of applications from musicians all over the world – 3,200 in total – of whom 2,700 were invited to audition. We conducted auditions in Cairo, as well as major cities across Europe, including London, Vienna, Madrid and Berlin.

At the end of the process, we were able to form an orchestra with 101 musicians, representing 30 nationalities.

We have also had the benefit of working with some incredibly talented conductors. Michalis Economou has been the music director since September 2011, when he took over from the QPO’s first music director, Nader Abbassi.

Lorin Maazel, one of the world’s most renowned conductors and the former music director of the New York Philharmonic, has collaborated extensively with the QPO since our inaugural concert in 2008. Other leading conductors who have worked with the QPO include Dmitri Kitajenko, Gerd Albrecht, Marc Minkowski, Han-Na Chang, David Afkham and James Gaffigan.

The QPO is also playing an active role in encouraging and inspiring the musicians of tomorrow. Our programs include concerts for school groups as well as opportunities for young students in Qatar to meet our musicians and talk to them about the joys and challenges of performing with an orchestra. The support of QF has been an integral part of the process of creating this new cultural institution – it is thanks to QF that the orchestra exists at all. The reputation of QF as an organization has helped smooth the way in terms of attracting the best musicians and world-renowned guest conductors.

When we started, musicians who were offered a position here in Doha really did not know what to expect. They had so many questions about the city, the culture, what was expected of them. We also have the challenge of being situated a long way away from the musical centers of Europe, and without the tradition of centuries-old orchestras.

However, given the short space of time that the QPO has existed, I am very happy with the artistic level we have achieved. We are compared with the level of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra, which is high praise for such a young ensemble. Our potential and ability to realize our ambitions put the QPO in good stead to be a truly iconic cultural institution for Qatar.