The opportunity to perform for a visiting royal was all in a day’s work for Qatar Music Academy (QMA) students as they took part in a special celebratory concert to the mark the visit of Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.
The performance was a musical and cultural collaboration, as the QMA students performed alongside visiting scholars from the prestigious Royal College of Music (RCM), London, of which The Prince of Wales is president.
The concept for the concert came about when Artistic Director of Qatar Music and Arts, and concert pianist Amira Fouad was approached by the British Embassy to put together a performance.
“We wanted to showcase young talent in Qatar, and what better way to do this than bring together the musicians of QMA, with Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra (QPO), under the guidance of the RCM scholars,” Fouad, who also performed in the concert, explained.
With just 10 days’ notice, Anne-Marie Pigneguy, QMA’s Head of Western Music, and Issa Boulos, QMA’s Head of Arab Music, worked together to ensure the students were prepared.
“As we had such a short timeframe, there was no question about us not using established pieces in the performance,” Pigneguy said. “However, some of the newer students had not performed these in public before, so they worked particularly hard in their rehearsals.”
Boulos agreed that the timeframe was challenging, but the Takht ensemble program implemented by QMA Arab department meant their five music students taking part in the concert were used to playing together. The main challenge was making sure the performance could be heard.
“Acoustically, performing with percussion instruments can be difficult,” he said. “Our students are used to playing in many different performance areas, as we are keen to take their music to the community, but we had never performed outside before.
“We didn’t want to use amplified sound systems because of the potential for it to be windy weather, which would impair the sound quality, and so we doubled up each instrument to give more resonance to the performance. This meant each student was paired by a member of our faculty, and with this foresight we were able to ensure the performance was of the quality we wanted.”
The Western music students were able to benefit from the guidance of RCM Artistic Director Stephen John, who conducted their performance, and learn from master scholars Sarah Joyce and Joseph Devalle, as well as from QPO violinists Alie and Lilya Bekirova.
“The 21 QMA Western music students found the experience very beneficial,” Pigneguy emphasized.
“The students are used to practicing and performing in relatively small rooms, indoors, where the sound is big and confident. Outdoors, the acoustics are totally different, and so the RCM scholars were able to give practical tips and advice to the students,” she added.
All right on the night
Six rehearsals were held, ranging from one hour to 90 minutes each, with one full dress rehearsal outdoors on the day before the concert was due to be held. “I think we bemused a few visitors to Katara, who turned the corner to find a string ensemble complete with grand piano,” Pigneguy said.
Moving a grand piano outside was no easy task, and all the instruments needed extra tuning for playing outdoors.
The young musicians were also dressed in new outfits for the performance, including white shirts with a treble clef on the pocket. “The students’ parents were very accommodating, taking them for fittings and bringing them to the extra rehearsals,” Pigneguy added. “We couldn’t have put on this performance without them, and they were very supportive.”
On the evening itself, the performance came together smoothly. “We had the usual performance issues. For example, we had to borrow lighting from Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra because the concert was moved to the evening and we had to light our music stands,” Pigneguy said.
“But none of the students seemed nervous, just excited. They’d had lessons on how to greet their royal guests, whether to curtsey or shake hands, what to say, and there was one security guard moving among the students, but aside from that, it was like a normal performance, and they played in a very professional manner.”
The program included pieces by Mendellsohn, Purcell and Shostakovich played by the QMA Western music department, and Muqaddimat Inta ‘Umri, by Muhammad ‘Abd al-Wahab, and a traditional Turkish piece played by the Arab music department.