A New International Sensation in World Music: An Interview with Qatari Orchestral Composer Dana Al Fardan

The Western orchestra is considered the most complex form of music and the top of the pyramid in artistic sophistication.  It took centuries to develop in a format based on a large number of performers, each with rigorous training in their particular instrument and carefully selected based on their skills. In such orchestras, all sound effects are acoustic and natural, with no synthesizers allowed. Work is carefully and intentionally composed, arranged, rehearsed, and performed to transform the listener in real-time to the feelings intended by the composer.

Key to orchestral music is the concept of harmony, where two or more musical themes are performed at the same time without conflict unless intended temporarily by the composer for a dramatic resolution. The compositions typically highlight four-part harmony: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass, for vocalists and instruments.

These orchestral elements are in contrast with the more common music in the popular scene where music is recorded on tracks with computer-aided special effects and minimum amount of harmony or application of advanced musical theories. Furthermore, this is also in bigger contrast with classical Arab music which is modal in structure, or maqam-based, and does not utilize harmony.

Arab composers rarely venture into orchestral music.  For a long time, opportunities were scarce, but a number of Arab nations have recently invested in establishing national orchestras and even built beautiful theaters and opera-houses to showcase them.  Qatar is one of the countries that has developed this art form utilizing nationals as well as other Arab and Western artists.  As one of the fruits of this worthy investment, a talented young woman without formal training in orchestral compositions has, in a short period of time, become a sensational star.