Violinist James Ehnes and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra bring classical complexities to the UAE

In an exclusive interview with The National, James Ehnes talks about making his UAE debut, and playing Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations and Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No 1, one of the most complex pieces of music ever written for the violin.
The Canadian violin soloist James Ehnes will perform on his nearly 300-year old Marsick Stradivarius. Courtesy Benjamin Ealovega
The Canadian violin soloist James Ehnes will perform on his nearly 300-year old Marsick Stradivarius. Courtesy Benjamin Ealovega

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, one of Britain’s longest-established musical -institutions, is coming to the UAE for the first time next week. The CBSO will deliver two performances in the capital and Al Ain as part of the Abu Dhabi Classics international concert series.

For their December 15 debut, which marks Abu Dhabi’s hosting of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet, the ensemble will play on a floating stage off the Corniche Breakwater with the Canadian violin soloist James Ehnes, who is among the best violinists of his generation.

In an exclusive interview with The National, Ehnes talks about making his UAE debut, and playing Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations and Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No 1, one of the most complex pieces of music ever written for the violin.

How are you feeling about your UAE debut?

This trip came as something of a nice surprise and the orchestra reached out to me a couple of months ago about availability for the concerts in the UAE. I jumped at the chance, as it’s a place I’ve wanted to visit for a while. In recent years, throughout the Middle East there has been an increased focus on western classical music, which I think is wonderful, as I believe the music is of great cultural significance and value to society.

You’ll be performing one of the most challenging violin concertos by the German composer Max Bruch. How do you expect it will be received?

Violin Concert No 1 has been one of the most enduringly popular violin concertos since it was written in the 1860s. It’s something of a classical cornerstone so I think there’s no better piece to give people an introduction to the world of the violin concertos. It’s quite virtuosic, of course complex, and a lot of fun to play. You can revel in it. I grew up obsessing over the piece and I hope I can play it as well as I did last year [laughs].

You’ll be playing a priceless, 300-year old Marsick Stradivarius violin in Abu Dhabi. Is it likely to be affected by the heat, humidity and desert environment?

Well, yes, environment and climate – to a certain extent – can affect the way an instrument responds. But as a player you can adapt. The violin may feel somewhat different to play but hopefully it won’t sound any different. Antonio Stradivari was the great genius violinmaker and, despite its age, my violin remains an incredible instrument with an incredible range. It’s a joy to play on it musically and an honour for historical reasons. Performing outside sometimes has its challenges but personally I feel it adds to a fun atmosphere. I love playing surrounded by nature and outdoors and always take pleasure from it and, as a musician, if you don’t enjoy it, no one else will.

Do you foresee the CBSO’s ­Abu Dhabi tour becoming a regular calendar fixture?

I certainly hope so. I would love to think that the concerts will play some small part in continuing to develop the role of classical music in the region. I also feel a bit of a personal responsibility to people coming to the event, for whom the music may be new. I hope they will have an appetite for more of it.

Tickets for the concert are available from www.ticketmaster.ae and start from Dh200 for adults and Dh30 for children. The CBSO tour is being held in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority and is part of the Abu Dhabi Classics season, which runs until May

rduane@thenational.ae

Published: December 6, 2014 04:00 AM

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