The UAE is to lose its only semi-professional symphony-scale orchestra, The NSO Symphony Orchestra and Chorus are closing down, at least for public performances; the final bow will be on Friday 27 April at the Emirates Palace Auditorium, with one of the NSO’s successful and popular ‘Night at the Movies’ concerts of film music.
Not successful or popular enough, apparently – the competition has become too fierce, especially with visiting orchestras brought in for special events like the Abu Dhabi Festival and newly opened venues like Dubai Opera looking for biggish names and touring companies to fill the seats.
The NSO has never received that kind of backing, in part because it is necessarily a semi-professional orchestra. There isn’t enough demand (or financial support) for a full-time local orchestra in the UAE, and the likes of Dubai Opera won’t be setting up permanent companies any time soon. Without regular employment to attract the best players, the NSO has always been staffed by people who have a day job to hold down – in many cases as music teachers in independent schools. Currently the NSO has more than 100 musicians of some 20 nationalities.
This has happened before, of course. Philipp Maier established the UAE Philharmonic in 2005 and was its artistic director and resident conductor; he closed down the orchestra in 2012 and returned to Germany, depressed by the same absence of local support. “The problem in the UAE is not the audience,” he said at the time. “The problem is the funding and the utter lack of understanding from both officials and the private sector that an orchestra like this needs a proper financial structure and support.
“The money invested in orchestras is never a financially viable investment, but an investment into the future of the country.”
The NSO was set up about the time that the UAE Symphony failed. It looks as though its organisers have found that things haven’t changed much. NSO Founder & Executive Director Janet Hassouneh – a qualified music teacher and former opera singer who has been working in the music business in the UAE for the past 30 years, both performing and organising – put it slightly differently: “With a growing number of world-class facilities opening in the UAE, attracting international soloists and orchestras, I feel it’s the right time to pass on the baton to these new purveyors, so that audiences can enjoy ever-more outstanding musical experiences”.
We’re told that the NSO will continue to performance for private bookings like wedding and corporate events, but there will be no more public events.
At least the final show, The Night at the Movies … The Final Curtain, should be a lot of fun. Longstanding Music Director Andrew Berryman will conduct the orchestra and chorus in a gala performance that will feature some of the most spectacular orchestral music ever written for film – Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Offenbach’s Can-Can from Moulin Rouge, Ladies in Lavender, the Die Fledermaus overture used in Tom & Jerry’s A Night at the Hollywood Bowl, Orff’s epic O Fortuna from Carmina Burana, and the piece that made Tchaikovsky a household name – the magnificent 1812 Overture.
The evening gala on 27 April is at 7.30pm, with tickets from AED 125. There’s a matinee at 4.30pm in the form of an ‘open rehearsal’, an opportunity to watch the orchestra and chorus at work as they shape and polish the music for the evening performance (AED 100+). Tickets for both are available at Ticketmaster, with an Early Bird discount of AED 25 per ticket during February – use the code EB25NSO when booking.
NSO is supporting the Make-a-Wish Foundation UAE, which will be present at the concert.
Said Ms Hassouneh: “The Night at the Movies … The Final Curtain promises to be a thrilling concert and it will certainly be a fitting finale to a wonderful journey, during which I have enjoyed the strong support of Maestro Andrew Berryman and the many talented musicians who have been part of NSO!”
Over the past seven years, the NSO has not shrunk from the big orchestral numbers. It has performed the likes of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, Bernstein’s West Side Story, and a full production of Hansel & Gretel. The orchestra accompanied Andrea Bocelli when he sang for some 10,000 people at the du Arena in 2016, and performed live with the BBC’s The Blue Planet at the opening ceremony of the Volvo Ocean Race in 2014.
As well as the NSO Symphony Orchestra, there is a Chamber Orchestra formation, the NSO Symphonic Pops Orchestra, the NSO Opera & Chorus, and the NSO Music Agency. It’s the latter that will be taking bookings for music ensembles and soloists for private functions; it can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.