First Published: 2009-08-31

Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra – discovering natural talents

High expectations for future of Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra after celebrating 22nd anniversary.


Middle East Online

By Dr. Hussein Shehadeh - MUSCAT

Many of the original members are still playing in the orchestra

Having celebrated their 22nd anniversary earlier this year and as Arabiaís sole pure Arabic Symphony Orchestra (ROSO) can be proud of their sterling achievements since its establishment in 1985 – primarily due to the gracious directives of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, originating from his appreciation of classical music and culture.

His majesty the Sultan was the driving force behind establishing the core of ROSO, in September 1985, and this is why the decision was taken to recruit young Omani musicians (male and female) who were keen to encompass a new world of timeless classical music. It was a unique idea from the outset, a rare and courageous step full of confidence and courage.

These intrepid young musicians began their musical training under the instruction and directives of professional musicians from different parts of the world. With the passage of time, their musical talents grew and they soon began taking examinations from the Associated Board of Music, in Britain, where they attained internationally recognized qualifications.

On July 1st 1987, ROSO, under the patronage of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, performed its debut concert. This was the first of a long line of concerts that were to follow – to date, the total number of concerts reached hundreds, inclusive public and private concerts held within and outside of the Sultanate.

There have been many landmarks in the history of ROSO, including their appearance in 1996 with Lord Menuhin and in 2005 with Dr. Subrimaniam, both of whom are world famous violinists. Many other world-renowned conductors and musicians have graced the stage of ROSO, including the likes of celebrated conductors such as Dimitri Alexeyev, Russell Keable, Malcolm Binney and Simon Wright, to name but a few.

With this year’s celebration of ROSO’s 22nd anniversary it is good to note that many of the original members are still playing in the orchestra. The future holds enormous promise for the orchestra’s Omani musicians. With concerted commitment, drive, vitality, true ability and the acquired knowledge that comes from year’s of diligent dedication and practice, there is strong potential to produce a new generation of talented Omani conductors and composers, who will play their important part in developing Omani classical music.

The story of the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra is one of courage, energy and sheer daring, beginning with a study on the best way of forming a Royal Symphony Orchestra, as instructed by his Majesty the Sultan, in 1984. It was decided that all of the orchestra’s members should be Omani nationals and, as the country had no tradition of western classical music, the whole project had to start from scratch.

In 1985, the first boys were recruited by a team from the Royal Guard of Oman. They visited many towns and villages looking for suitable candidates. The new recruits would be pioneers in aquest to develop a symphony orchestra. A brave decision for them and their families, as none of them had heard or seen a symphony orchestra.

A list of 1,300 applicants was narrowed down to a short list of 250 and from this 100 were selected to start training. Initially the boys learnt English language and some rudimentary music in preparation of the arrival of musical instruments and music teachers. In the spring of 1986, the first instruments arrived, followed shortly by the first batch of music teachers.

On July 1st, 1987, the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra gave its inaugural concert, at the Bustan Palace Hotel’s Oman Auditorium, in front of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos and an invited audience.

ROSO is unique in many ways. The main being that it is the only pure Arabic symphony orchestra, there is no other such orchestra in the world and it is a record that Oman should be justly proud of.

A big step was taken in July 1988 when the orchestra gave its first public performance and in September of the same year 25 more boys were recruited.

ROSO comes under the auspices of the Royal Guard of Oman. The Orchestra’s home is located near Seeb, north of Muscat, in Oman, and is basically the equivalent of a western style private music college. Besides the administration block, the campus has accommodation facilities for all of its musicians, together with small and large rehearsal rooms that can accommodate sectional and individual practice and the full orchestra, respectively. There is a school that teaches younger members English language, Mathematics, Music Theory and Arabic language and social studies. There are recreational and dining facilities and a Mosque to allow for prayers.

ROSO is one of the only remaining Royal Court Orchestras in the world. Their public concerts here are performed at the Al Bustan Palace Hotel’s Oman Auditorium and at the Muscat Intercontinental Hotel. They have travelled abroad and have made public performances on many occasions, in Belgium, Dubai and Abu Dhabi and privately in London and Paris.

Further concerts have taken place in Paris in October 2005, at the invitation of UNESCO for their International Conference, and in Bahrain, in November 2005 for the 14th Bahrain Music Festival. ROSO also had the privilege of being invited to the Young Euro Classic festival, in Berlin in 2007, where they received a 10 minutes standing ovation at the end of their performance. This concert featured the world-famous violinist Dr. Subrimaniam and renowned Lebanese lute player Marcel Khalife.

In addition to this, ROSO has played with some of the world’s best musicians, including the late Lord Menuhin in 1996 and in 2005 they appeared in Oman with the world renowned violinist Dr. Subramaniam. The orchestra also performs for many visiting dignitaries to the Sultanate, at the behest of His Majesty the Sultan.

Over the years many ROSO musicians have, under their own initiative, studied various aspects of music. Many of them have started writing music and it is with great pride that one of them, Hamdan al Shaely, had his world premier, ‘Blessed Renaissance’ performed by ROSO earlier this year in Berlin. This piece was well received by the German audience.

Some of the musicians are seeking to become conductors and composers. To further encourage them, every year musicians are selected to go on courses during their summer holidays, with the aim of producing conductors, musical specialists and composers.

To capitalise on the significant success achieved by the orchestra and its talented musicians, in 2003 His Majesty the Sultan initiated a student recruitment drive for the Orchestral School. The Royal Guard advertised and many hundreds of young Omani boys and girls applied for places at the school.

After employing ROSO Music School’s stringent testing method, known as the Bentley Method, to ascertain the musicality of the candidates, the large number of applicants was whittled down to a more manageable number. This number was further reduced following compulsory medical examinations, which checks the applicant’s physical and cognitive health and ability.

The ROSO School uses the Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music – A British system of musical examination – for their yearly examination, which is overseen by external examiners. The future looks bright for these young Omanis, provided they work hard and achieve good results. There are a total of 64 students at present and it is hoped that this number will grow over the coming years.


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