The Cairo Symphony Orchestra


A New Season of Music, Concerts, & Classical Masterpieces


By Amina El Fayoumy

A little over 50-years old, The Cairo Symphony Orchestra (CSO) was established in 1959 under the leadership of its first music director and conductor Franz Litschauer who was later succeeded by two Egyptian conductors, Ahmed Ebeid and Youssef Elsisi. During the golden era, the orchestra delivered symphonic concerts, and backed opera and ballet performances of local and international companies like the Bolshoi and the Royal Ballet of London.

Under the baton of Maestro Ahmed El-Saeedi as its music director and principal conductor, The CSO has played a pivotal role in integrating classical music within the community, creating awareness about international composers, refining Egyptian preferences in music, as well as adopting young gifted Egyptian musicians and conductors. El-Saeedi, one of the best-renowned figures on the Egyptian classical music scene, prides himself on countless partnerships with famous orchestras worldwide, numerous concerts in Egypt and in many prominent international halls.

The main features of the CSO programme for the 2015-2016 Season, which debuts September 5th, are yet to be announced but the information disclosed by Maestro El-Saeedi seems exciting. “This season, we continue to celebrate the works of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu, and Belgian/French composer Cesar Franck,” says El-Saeedi. The CSO will perform almost 71 concerts at the main hall and small hall at the Cairo Opera House, the Alexandria Opera House (Sayed Darweesh Theatre), and the Damanhoor Opera House. “Besides Egyptian soloists, we’re also planning to invite international soloists to take part in our concerts.”

As for international commitments, The CSO is planning an overseas tour in Germany from September 20th to 27th, where they will perform in Berlin and other surrounding cities. The orchestra’s performance season in Egypt is always accompanied by a highly praised international tour.

Our conversation with Maestro El-Saeedi reflected the CSO’s commitment to remain actively involved with the community at large; the orchestra has to reach out to the society and not alienate itself. “Our aim is to bridge the gap between classical music and potential new listeners. This cannot be achieved by solely being reduced to the Saturday Concerts, which target and attract our classical music regulars who come to enjoy heavy symphonic pieces. To implement this, we will present several lighter concerts featuring international music pieces which will target new and potential audience,” explains El-Saeedi. The diversity of the programming components is essential for expanding the symphony’s audience base.

The CSO stages different kinds of concerts: the regular Saturday Concerts at the main hall of the Cairo Opera House, and the Friday Matinee Family Concerts where parents and children can enjoy a program of light-character international music pieces, especially tailored to the youngest listeners. The CSO is also planning to take music to universities and schools. “School Concerts (to be held in October, November and April) will give young school children an idea about classical music and the orchestra because they are our perspective future listeners. We perform a group of several lighter concerts celebrating special occasions like the New Year Concerts in Cairo, Alexandria and Damanhour, the Spring Concerts and Saint Valentine’s Concerts. We also hold chamber concerts at the small hall of the Cairo Opera House.”

The CSO’s promotion strategy varies according to the type of activity. “Most of our events are advertised on our website, (, which we aspire to improve next season. We send out emails to our list of regular audience members, print flyers for monthly events, and a booklet for the whole season’s events, which will be out early September.”

There’s a constant need to reinforce the orchestra with new fresh members. “To maintain that, we approach musical institutions to identify new talents and ask them to audition for me before I decide whether or not to add them to the orchestra. When I distinguish a talent, I include them in the already prefixed programmes. They rehearse and appear on the night.”

The Orchestra Academy brings promising young Egyptian musicians together to teach them the fundamentals of orchestral performance. “I give new players the opportunity of a one year contract to be trained by the principal players of the orchestra. We train them and they audition again for vacant positions to be accepted as permanent members of the orchestra.” This new trend, existing in almost every large orchestra in Europe, helps shape musicians before they join the main CSO body.

The CSO always tries to nurture new talent and promote young Egyptian musicians. “This season, for instance, I am presenting two young soloists: 12 year-old Salma Sorour who is going to perform as a soloist in a concerto with the orchestra and a 13 year-old violinist who’s going to play the Wieniawski concerto with the orchestra.” The CSO does not grant scholarships for young aspiring musicians, per se; these are usually offered by the Cairo Opera House and the Ministry of Culture. “Sometimes, we organise open workshops to train young conductors free of charge.”

The CSO hopes to preserve Egypt’s cultural heritage and keep it alive by promoting Egyptian composers who composed for the symphony orchestra and including them in its programme through concerts totally devoted to honour their names and work.

The Cairo Symphony Orchestra seems like it’s about to unveil one of its most promising and ambitious seasons yet; we can’t wait!

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