Katara is a cultural village that was built to preserve the old Qatari culture. I would say it is a cleaned up, way more expensive, luxurious version of their past. Just driving into the complex is a sensory experience. The water and beach are there ushering visitors into a more peacful setting from the noise of the city. The bricked walkways have colored lights paved right into the ground making it appear to be a bedouin fairy path. The concert was held in the beautiful Drama Theater, which seemed very small for an orchestra concert, but the audience didn't even fill up the seats sadly. The ceiling of the theater is covered with small lights and painted to look like the night sky, so we got the feel of being under the desert stars without all the blowing sand and hot temperatures. There were nibbles and drinks before the concert started and during intermission, so we felt very pampered with the Perrier water and salmon hors d'oeuvres.
As I looked through the concert program before the performance I got a little nervous because the first selection for the night was composed by an Arabic artist. I didn't think I could sit through a night of the whiny, screeching music that I have come to know as Arabic music. I had no need to worry though, because as the concert started, the musical gifts of the composer Marcel Khalife quickly woke up my senses to a new meaning of Arabic melodies. It was called Concerto for Rababa and Orchestra and it was divine. This is what Khalife wrote about his creation:
"For the rababa and the orchestra, I wrote music that slips out of its jealously guarded chamber at night, carrying songs that Arabs have long sung as they wandered between sand dunes and verdant oases - a spirit moved by trains of melody and rhythm. The rababa resonates with the rhythms of galloping purebreds, evoking the spirit's eternal hum. The rababa to the desert is like water to gazelles . . . . As if voyaging through desert vistas, I used the tradtional meters of Arabic poetry as rhythmic patterns to provide a measured form for the voice that wells up from the cauldron of passionate love. In doing so, and to help restore the glory of the rababa, I opened a doorway to the impossible, to a madness that reason woujld accept, lawlessness that morality does not abhor, a touch of chaos that can fit within an ordered structure, a sense of adventure that wisdom would tolerate, and a sense of delirium induced by melody."
He wrote a lot more about his piece, but as you can tell, he is quite a poet as well as a composer. His music really touched me, but the musicians made it really come alive. The guest soloist Hassan Moataz Al Molla played the rababa through the whole first half of the concert. Now what is a rababa, you ask? Well I didn't know what it was either until seeing for myself. You can see for yourself here from a recording of the concerto at Qatar National Day in December 2010. Do yourself a favor and watch - you won't be disappointed. Not only was his music haunting and magical that night, his performance was filled with pleasure and joyful connections with the other musicians. His eye contact with certain violinists, cellists, and the conductor communicated a rare gratitude and commraderie and it was obvious that he loves what he does. I loved what he did too.
After the posh intermission, when Brett got Marcel Khalife's autograph and we had some more fancy snacks, the orchestra continued with some Tchaikovsky, a movement from a Qatari composer called "Doha Secrets Symphony", some Khachaturian, a composition from the conductor called "Nile Bride", and then ended with a piece from Stravinsky. My favorite part of the second half was the piece by the conductor. I think it is rare to see a composer conduct his own creation but we did. Nader Abbassi is someone who makes his work look as easy as breathing in and out. He seems to pull the music from the orchestra with instinctual movements and gestures. His fluidity with his own music was especially impressive. Unfortunately Mr. Abbassi looked a lot like Dracula that night in his tux and tails, but his musical abilities made up for his vampire-like exterior.
The whole evening had been floaty and relaxing as we walked to our car, which is not easily done in a city like Doha, so I savoured it. It made me so happy and appreciative of other people's gifts and talents and thankful about how they are generous in sharing them with the parched souls of those of us sojourning in this desert wilderness.