Muscat: Over 30 years ago, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said had a dream: to establish a professional orchestra made of 100 per cent Omani citizens.
To be sure, it was a poetic idea from His Majesty’s belief in his people and support for the arts. The idea was born out of an ardent and passionate heart that believes in originality, inspiration, creativity, and hard work. It’s the kind of idea that can only be conceived out of a conductor, a captain, and a benevolent leader that His Majesty the Sultan stands for.
After numerous and complicated recruitment strategies, studies and consultations, many advisors expressed doubt in the validity of such a venture. His Majesty, however, was a firm believer in the arts as a vehicle to establish cultural diplomacy, cooperation between nations.
Furthermore, he firmly believes that music must be utilised as a vehicle for the promotion of universal beliefs in peace, tolerance, and coexistence. These were, after all, the grand principles that we continue to live by under his leadership in our beloved nation.
The birth of ROSO
The birth of the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra (ROSO), was conceived in gradual and careful steps. Under the direct supervision of His Majesty, young talented musicians from both sexes were selected in 1985 based on basic musical skills of melody, tempo, and rhythm. Under the umbrella of the Royal Guard, they were subjected to intensive studies in music both in Oman and abroad.
As anticipation grew, the arrival of instruments was a cause for celebration. Young musicians embraced theirs as extensions of their own arms. It was a bond cemented by passion and love for music, a bond that would last for many years to come.
At young age, Omani musicians were subjected to intensive training within the boundaries of the palace. It was not unlikely for the young musicians to attend rehearsals only to see His Majesty himself waiting outside the classrooms, anxious to hear and encourage the first note.
The sublime taste and refined style of His Majesty’s fascination with music and culture is now extended to privilege few who breathe the nectar of his love and gracious wisdom. Sheltered from distractions within the compound of His Majesty’s palace, musicians can now embrace new ideals and communicate to the world in the language of peace, refinement, and passion.
It was a courageously poetic idea that gave birth to a gushing river with its full glory.
For the past 45 years of his glorious reign, His Majesty’s teachings of harmony, beauty, and refinance have shaped all aspects of our being as young aspiring musicians.
On July 1, 1987, under the patronage of His Majesty, ROSO performed its inaugural concert in the auditorium of Al Bustan Palace Hotel. Since then, more than 140 private and public, domestic and international concerts have been performed. At dinner banquets, those who did not know about the ROSO project, initially thought they were listening to music through a CD.
With the smile of success, His Majesty would respond “No! It is live.” Indeed, it was live and alive; the fruit of many years of hard work has paid off. It was a message of will and determination to all Omanis and to the world.
ROSO quickly became Oman’s musical ambassador to the world performing in prestigious venues in the UAE, Belgium, Germany, and France. Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2005, ROSO performed with esteemed Indian artist Dr. L Subramaniam and the Lebanese Marcel Khalife in Berlin. The ROSO project remains a vibrant bridge between East and West. Their appearance throughout the world continues to be a feast of sensuous pleasures to the ears, eyes, and hearts of music lovers. Members appear on stage in colourful costumes reflecting the Omani flag with the fragrance of frankincense filling the hall.
When the lights are dimmed and the audiences are quite, history is made live where old and new ideals are intertwined in harmonious fashion to create moments of intense artistic experiences for baffled audiences.
Under the batons of conductor Simon Wright in Berlin, ROSO performed Shostakovich’s overture op. 96 in A-minor, Marcel Khalife’s suite for Oud and Orchestra, and the violin Concerto by Dr. Subramaniam. In music as in history, the notes of the ROSO score travel through grandiose terrains of Moscow to the landscapes of Moorish and Babylonian history before landing in the mountains of the Himalaya. Likewise, the programme freely moves from improvisations (taqasim and ragas) to the strict rules of Western counterpoint, from virtuosity to intimacy, and from homophony to polyphony, illustrating the highest techniques and musicianship acquired by the players.
Tonight’s performance of ROSO in the prestigious hall of the Royal Opera House Muscat (ROHM)brings about the fulfilment of two ambitious projects. As ROSO celebrates its 30th anniversary, the ROHM is commencing its 5th season. What started as a fantastic dream is now reality; the poetic idea that witnessed the birth of a professional orchestra by Omani citizens, gave birth to an organisation that exudes passion and graciousness.
ROSO is a reflection of His Majesty’s unyielding dedication for music and the arts. His vision, confidence, and sponsorship made ROSO a reality. It was his vision for a vibrant, diverse, and modern Oman; a nation that embraces the past, but continues its advancement towards the future.
Novel and a poetic idea
From the abyss of doubt, ROSO emerged as a novel and a poetic idea; an idea born in the heart and soul of a benevolent leader. The idea was nourished by passion, love, and understanding of culture as a tool towards cultural diplomacy, understanding, diplomacy.
In establishing ROSO, His Majesty was aware of the cultural impacts. He keenly notes the need for balance between cultures, between modernity and heritage, knowing fully in advance that the establishment of a professional Western orchestra does not mean ignoring our indigenous traditions.
He once stated: “In Oman, we try to preserve our musical heritage. I cannot give preference to just one direction or to separate works. I like the music of Andalucía, Turkish and Iranian music, a lot of Indian and African music. ...I hope that all these efforts to develop music will lead to the fulfilment of my goal—to raise the cultural level of the people in general and musical education in particular.”
With the same vision and forward looking, His Majesty established ROHM to serve as a beacon for arts and culture in the region. Five years ago in 2011, ROHM ushered a new era in the dialectic engagement with the arts. Since then, hundreds of concerts by world renowned orchestras, opera companies, and established artists performed in its magnificent hall.
Opera, symphony, jazz, organ music, world music, tarab, and inchad concerts have placed Muscat as a central place for experiencing culture in the region. An astonishing opening season featured celebrated artists like Plácido Domingo, Renée Fleming, Magda El-Rumi, and Yo-Yo Ma; renowned theatres like the American Ballet Theatre, the Mariinsky Ballet, Theatroalla Scala Ballet, and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis were also featured in a dazzling inaugural season.
More importantly, these concerts strengthen our belief in human values and in music as a universal language that bring us together. Great visionary leaders have the ability to unite and inspire, and with these original projects for Oman, His Majesty was a pioneer!
ROSO has become a symbol of pride and honour for all Omanis; an endeavour of His Majesty’s sublime beauty, dedication, and determination. It was nourished by the guidance of His Majesty’s sublime taste, care, and resiliency that made Oman what it is today; confident, forward looking, ambitious, yet still strongly true to its tradition, legendary past, and heritage.
Universally conceived program like tonight’s concert by ROSO reaffirm our commitment for peace and coexistence because within these sacred walls, there is no longer East or West; high or low cultures, oral or written traditions; there is only music!
The writer is Advisor to the Board for Education and Outreach.