A love of music born of curiosity led to the cello and rababa player reaching the point where he performed in a concert that represented a world first
From a young age, Hassan Moataz Al-Mulla would sit and listen to his older sister playing on the electric piano, as his family members gathered around her to enjoy her music. He was so impressed with her performance that it which prompted him to try to stealthily play the piano himself.
The cello and rababa player with Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, a member of Qatar Foundation, recalls: “On one occasion, my sister forgot the piano was still connected to the electricity, so I tried to press its keys randomly. Although I did not really like music at the time, my curiosity prompted me to try playing on the piano and listen to its tunes, I discovered then that I could make nice sounds out of it, but I needed more time and training. "
Hassan's parents noticed his fondness and growing passion for music, and decided to enroll him in the Conservatoire at the Academy of Arts in Cairo, when he was nine years old, to learn to play the cello. He studied the instrument until the end of his higher education, then obtained a Master's degree in Arts from the same institute.
Reflecting on how his time at the Conservatoire began, he says: “Despite the distance between our home and the institute, my mother insisted on enrolling me to study in it. As for me, the future was unknown back then.
I did not know anything about the cello, nor about the world of music, but my parents kept making every effort to support my learning journey
“I did not know anything about the cello, nor about the world of music, but my parents kept making every effort to support my learning journey at the institute, and this interest gave me an incentive to continue my studies – together with the support of my teachers, which contributed to me succeeding.”
Hassan’s first real experience in the world of orchestras was when he was 14. Having traveled to France to participate with the Orchestra of the Mediterranean Countries, he met musicians from different countries, and realized that interacting and exchanging ideas at an early age could broaden his horizons. He also learned to respect different points of view, recognizing that this helps an artist’s performance, and their ability to communicate his ideas to the hearts and minds of those who listen to them.
As for how he came to joining the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, Hassan says: “I was traveling to Italy in 2007 to participate in a concert led by a team from Switzerland, and at Naples airport I met a colleague from Greece who told me that there a new orchestra was to be established in Qatar and advised me to apply for it. So, I did, I was selected, and my family and I traveled to Doha in September 2008.
When I learned that I had passed the presentation test for the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, I decided then to train on the rababa during my free time, as I love playing Arabic music
"Right from the start, it was very interesting, but it also carried a lot of questions and challenges as I looked to communicate with my new colleagues, and we searched for the ideal way to work as a team."
Becoming part of the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra set Hassan on a new musical path, influenced by the Qatari environment and culture, and the result of this influence was his professionalism in playing the rababa, an ancient Arabic single-chord musical instrument that is characteristic of the Bedouin environment and represents an important part of musical folklore in Qatar.
“When I learned that I had passed the presentation test for the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, I decided then to train on the rababa during my free time, as I love playing Arabic music,” he said. “I have good experience in it because I participated in performances with leading singers from the Arab world, such as Abu Bakr Salem, Warda Al Jazairia, and Ali Abdel Sattar."
I love improvisation without restrictions in playing Arab music
The rababa is a feature of desert musical sessions and storytelling evenings, with Hassan saying: “It is the master of all stringed instruments and the master of novels, stories and Arabic poetry.
“We hear it in the heat inside a tent in the desert, and we also hear it in old recordings by Qatari artists. It was used by poets, it is the prominent instrument in the Bedouin councils, and the secret of the Bedouin’s attachment to it is that it's compatible with the nature of the desert in terms of how it is manufactured and its suitability for the desert climate.
"I love improvisation without restrictions in playing Arab music, and the artist and composer Marcel Khalife asked me to perform a simple improvisational clip that he would present with the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra in Paris. After I finished, the performance won the admiration of the audience, and I told him that if I brought the rababa with me, the improvisational nature of the performance would be more effective.
“He liked the idea so much that he told me that he would write a concerto for the rababa, the first of its kind in the world, to be performed with the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra.”
The concert took place in November 2010, in Doha, as Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra blended the authenticity of Bedouin history and Western music, and place it in a classic international musical framework that captivated an Arab, European, and global audience. And for Hassan Moataz Al-Mulla, it was a proud moment for him – and a long way from those days when he would sneak onto the family piano and a lifelong love of music was born.