Egypt’s unique orchestra, tonight in Malta

When retired banker Julian Holland was still based in Cairo, he happened to attend a concert by an all-female orchestra that left him somewhat perplexed. The reason behind this perplexity involved the way the conductor seemed to go off stage during the actual performance of every piece.

“I had arrived late, after the concert started, so I missed the opening address. When I saw what this conductor was doing I was mystified. There’s someone who is being paid for nothing, I thought to myself!”

The observation puzzled Julian enough that after the concert he made enquiries into this strange way of conducting an orchestra. His acquaintance, however, turned out to be already acquainted with this particular orchestra and was quick to reply with a smile.

“Imagine my surprise when she explained the orchestra that had just played such amazing music was made up of visually-impaired women. Hence the novel way the maestro used to conduct them, of course. I was flabbergasted at the way they managed to create such beautiful music despite the obvious challenges and from that day onwards I was a devoted fan,” he explains.

Not being one to let the grass grow under his feet, Julian didn’t take too long to approach the people behind the orchestra. Despite not considering himself an entrepreneur, he was so impressed by the musicians’ performance that he wanted to try and organise a similar concert in Malta. Before he knew it, plans were finalised for Al Nour Wal Amal (which translates to Music, Light and Hope) to give a concert on our island in March 2011.

“Everything was planned. Then, suddenly, the Arab Spring happened. Egypt was thrown in chaos and the concert had to be postponed. It was a massive disappointment, of course. I myself had only just left Cairo the day before the rioting started. In a way, I am sorry that after living in the country for so long I didn’t have the chance to witness the Egyptians’ move for freedom first hand,” he tells me.

Now that the political climate has quietened, Julian decided that it’s the right time to resurrect the plan. Which is why on Sunday, May 6 the 38-strong orchestra will be performing a selection of works from the classical composers – including two pieces from Malta’s own Joseph Vella – at the Manoel Theatre.

“From a logistical perspective it’s not easy. There’s a whole contingent of 52 people because obviously the musicians need a degree of assistants. However it really seems that these are people who are ready to take up any challenge. This is not the first time that they have performed overseas and they have already travelled to some 25 countries I believe,” Julian continues.

The orchestra has already performed twice in Austria and Germany, in Jordan, Kuwait, England, Sweden, Spain,. Qatar, Morocco, Japan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Canada and Greece and more recently in Slovakia. In each of these countries the orchestra has been received with great enthusiasm, receiving acclamation and many a standing ovation.

The orchestra is unique and all the musicians forming part of it are members of a music institute that was founded with the aim of introducing the girls to this art form and to enable them to hone their musical talent with a creative way that also expresses their emotions.

“What they have achieved is amazing. We are holding this concert in Malta also with the support of the Malta Society of the Blind; the idea is to offer members of the local society the possibility of interacting with – and maybe, getting inspired from – these musicians. The orchestra will also be raising funds for the Malta association.”

For the Malta concert, the orchestra will be playing classics by Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Khachaturian and Bizet, as well as Theodorakis, Delibes and a few pieces by composers from the Middle East and India.

“As a tribute to the country they are playing in, Al Nour Wal Amal also like to include works by local composers and in fact two pieces by Maestro Joseph Vella have been chosen for the occasion: Romanza and Elegy,” Julian added.

Al Nour Wal Amal Chamber Orchestra will be performing at The Manoel Theatre on Sunday May 6. For more information and bookings contact the Manoel Theatre ticket office on 2124 6389 or email or visit

This interview appeared on The TV Guide (Times of Malta).




  1. Clementina Pisani says:

    This was most enjoyable and simply amazing