New national orchestra will bring its harmonies to the world

A bold initiative that aims to spread joy and draw cultures together via the power of music
Music Director Jaap van Zweden performs at David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center September 20, 2018 in New York. Jaap van Zweden began his tenure as the 26th Music Director of the New York Philharmonic with his inaugural Opening Gala Concert. / AFP / Don EMMERT / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Shaun TANDON, "In striking debut, New York Philharmonic maestro embraces new"

America takes pride in the New York Philharmonic, France has its Orchestre National, the UK has the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Now, the UAE is to form its own national orchestra, an institution seen around the world as the ultimate projection of a country's cultural and global ambitions.

Governments must, of course, give priority to the basic building blocks of society – housing, power, water, healthcare and education. But with these essentials in place, a commitment to the arts is the next logical enterprise.

The decision to express the soul of the UAE through music signals that this is a nation that has truly reached maturity.

The orchestra plan chimes with a cultural initiative launched in July by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation. In collaboration with the country’s 183 embassies, the Office for Public and Cultural Diplomacy will showcase artists from the UAE around the world, in a bid to broaden perceptions of Emirati culture. An orchestra is the perfect instrument to send such a message.

At home, the orchestra may well help to boost flagging interest in music among the nation's schoolchildren. Details are yet to emerge. Plans to attract international as well as home-grown talent imply a focus on western classical music. But a remark by culture minister Noura Al Kaabi that the country's rich musical heritage should be celebrated holds out hope of something even more exciting.

A national orchestra with a repertoire blending western traditions with the rich heritage of Arabic classical music could do much to realign cultural and historical perspectives.

After all, Arabic music not only predates the western classical tradition by millennia, it also helped to shape it. The oud, with a pedigree thousands of years long, is the ancestor of the medieval lute. The rebec, carried into Europe in the 8th century with the Islamic conquest of the Iberian peninsula, was the forerunner of the violin.

Music, in other words, has a universality that brings us all together. That the UAE should choose to make it on the world stage is nothing short of uplifting.