Saudis mix genders at 1st public classical concert
It's probably as revolutionary and groundbreaking as Mozart gets these days. A German-based quartet staged Saudi Arabia's first-ever performance...
The Associated Press
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — It's probably as revolutionary and groundbreaking as Mozart gets these days. A German-based quartet staged Saudi Arabia's first-ever performance of European classical music in a public venue before a mixed-gender audience.
The concert, held at a government-run cultural center Friday night, broke many taboos in a country where public music is banned and the sexes are segregated even in lines at fast-food outlets.
A few weeks ago, King Abdullah made an unprecedented call for interfaith dialogue with Christians and Jews — the first such proposal from a nation that forbids non-Muslim religious services and symbols.
"The concert is a sign that things are changing rapidly here," said German Ambassador Juergen Krieghoff, whose embassy sponsored the concert as part of the first-ever German Cultural Weeks in Saudi Arabia.
Public concerts are practically unheard of in the kingdom. Foreign embassies and consulates regularly bring musical groups, but they perform on embassy grounds or in expatriates' residential compounds, and the shows are not open to the public.
In the past couple of months, however, there has been a quiet yet marked increase in cultural activities in Saudi Arabia. Lectures and a couple of segregated folk-music performances were held on the sidelines of Riyadh's book fair. And Jiddah's annual Economic Forum opened with a surprise this February — a performance of Arab and Western music.
Friday's concert of works by works by Mozart, Brahms and Paul Juon was the first classical performance held in public in Saudi Arabia, said German press attaché Georg Klussmann.
Those gathered applauded enthusiastically after each piece and were treated to an encore.
Sebastian Bischoff, the German cultural attaché, said the mission had received permission for the event from the Ministry of Information and Culture, which runs the King Fahd Cultural Center, where the concert took place.
Japanese pianist Hiroko Atsumi, the quartet's only woman, said there was some debate before the concert about whether she should perform in an abaya, the enveloping black cloak all women must wear in public. She ended up settling on a long green top and black trousers.
Among the first to arrive was Faiza al-Khayyal, a retired Saudi educator, with her 15-year-old daughter.
Al-Khayyal said she had inquired about seating arrangements and was told the audience would be mixed.
Did she mind bringing her daughter to a mixed gathering?
"It's OK with me," she said, and then added with a smile: "I'm with her."
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