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This Pioneering All-Female Orchestra Is Shaking Up The Arab World’s Music Scene

You can catch the orchestra mentored by A.R. Rahman and conducted by Yasmina Sabbah performing at major events and celebrations during Expo 2020.

Electrifying performances from renowned artists like Andrea Bocelli, Hussain Al Jassmi and Ahlam Alshamsi undoubtedly helped to make the grand opening ceremony of Expo 2020 Dubai nothing short of spectacular. However, it was the spine-tingling music from the all-women Firdaus Orchestra that gave the eagerly awaited event a never-quite-seen-before edge. The extraordinary ensemble founded and mentored by the Oscar-award-winning Indian composer A.R. Rahman captivated the 3,000-strong audience inside Al Wasl Plaza, as well as the millions who tuned in across the world. And the women’s artistic prowess will surely continue to be a major talking point as they will be playing at all major events and celebrations during the expo.

Two years of diligent work by the orchestra’s 50 musicians, who come from 23 countries across the Arab world, sees them ready to take the world stage by storm. The ensemble, which has intermediate and professional players with ages ranging from 16 to 51, will hold their first official performance on October 23. The space day themed event will feature works composed by Rahman, who was asked by HE Reem Al Hashimy, UAE Minister of State for International Co-operation and Director General of Expo 2020 Dubai, to get involved. Newfound fans can also then catch them at several concerts throughout the expo, including a special performance on March 8 to mark International Women’s Day.

Audiences will be able to enjoy the fresh and interesting fusion of styles and genres they have perfected as they perform pieces in line with the predominant themes at the six-month celebration of creativity, innovation, human progress and culture. A diverse range of instruments, which includes oriental as well as Arabic ones like Qanun and Oud, help create Firdaus Orchestra’s unique beats. And leading the very special arrangements is the Lebanese conductor Yasmina Sabbah, who is thrilled about directing an all-women’s orchestra for the first time.

Sabbah, also the conductor at Saint Joseph University Choir and the President of Jeunesses Musicales du Liban, a Lebanese NGO that promotes music for exceptional learning experiences, took to Instagram to share her excitement. The 33-year-old said she was “humbled to be conducting this ensemble of talented and inspiring women across the region!”

Talking to About Her, Sabbah, a University of Cambridge alumna who has directed the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra, said: “When it comes to music, it doesn’t matter whether you are male of female because all that matters after all is the quality of the sound and the interpretation of the orchestra. The point of having an all-female orchestra is a statement and message of empowerment to the world to break the stereotypes associated with women in the Middle East.”

With sisterhood and community at its core and so much cultural diversity bringing in different perspectives, the Firdaus Orchestra will surely be making waves long after Expo 2020 Dubai is over. The plan is to make it a resident orchestra, with the members spinning their magic at the Firdaus Studio, the first recording studio in the emirates that can record a full orchestra performance in one go. 

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