QPO blends music of east and west

It’s nearing nine o’clock on a Wednesday morning at Katara Cultural Village. The bustle of business in Doha swirls around us, but that’s far from the mind of Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra Stage Manager Nasser Al Nasseb, who wears a relaxed expression as he stands backstage at the Opera House.

It has taken two days for Al Nasseb and his crew of technicians and sound engineers to prepare for back-to-back concerts of French composer Camille Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals that will be given to an audience of children from schools across Qatar. Al Nasseb’s mood right now is most likely down to the fact the orchestra is performing in their own living room, with everything in place for a musical delight.

”The Opera House is definitely our home out of all the venues we hold concerts at,” Al Nasseb beams. “The majority of work happens during the before and after of a concert. My work begins by taking the plan from the artist manager for the next performance to prepare the stage and seating positions, and sound and lighting. Sometimes we use projections and these have to be incorporated. It’s enjoyable work but, of course, it is time-specific, and ensuring everything and everyone is in sync involves immense organization.”

Running like clockwork, 101 musicians assemble backstage. For concerts of this nature it is only the string section in action, with the addition of a few solo instrumentalists. The atmosphere continues to be jovial as the chattering, enthusiastic audience streams into the auditorium. And then, in one smooth movement, the orchestration of the production shifts from Al Nasseb, the operational conductor, to Michalis Economou, the conductor who will lead the orchestra on stage.

In September of 2011, Economou became music director of QPO. Born in Greece in 1973, he is also the chief conductor of the Athens Symphony Orchestra and the principal guest conductor of the National Radio Greek Orchestra. Today, he finds himself leading a unique group of musicians fusing Arabic and Western music.

“It is not a completely new thing for me to combine these two worlds,” Economou says. “I come from Greece, which is a country that is in the middle of the Western and the Eastern tradition. Our folk music is very close to Arabic folk music, so I was born with these sounds in my ears. This makes things easier for me. I feel highly honored to be leading this group from a musical aspect because all of these people come from high-level schools and are greatly educated – both technically and musically. This series of concerts that we’re doing for schools is the most important in the entire season. The reason is that music not only serves as entertainment but also as education.”

On first violin, Annemari Ainomae has been with the QPO since its inception four years ago in 2008. A native of Estonia, Ainomae continues to be awed by the reaction the orchestra receives after performances and, in particular, when it centers on community commitments.

“I think all of the musicians would agree that reaching out to the community through our efforts on stage is very rewarding,” she says. “There is benefit for the children, but there is also benefit for us. It’s a gift for them because they can get this really high level of education by having fun in a concert hall and it’s a gift for us to give something back – to make a difference.”