An Early Calling
Five year old Mariam Abouzahra and her mother Nora Emody during the performance at the Bosch Center for Performing Arts Center
By Jane Borges (Muscat Daily)
February 25, 2014
It is impossible to not love the music that the strings of their violins create. It is even more difficult to not be enchanted by the violinists.
As you sit in the audience, watching them slide their bows on the strings, you will have an ‘aww moment’ too many; not just because of the way they play, but also because they are so young. Eight year old Amira Abouzahra and her five year old sister Mariam have that effect on you. The duo has a rare talent: A passion for music, unmatched for anyone their age.
“They practise for over two to three hours daily,” said their father Ahmed Abouzahra, also a musician, who plays the piano. A group of children from the elementary batch of The American International School of Muscat (TAISM), who came to listen to them play at the Bosch Center for Performing Arts, gasped in shock when they learnt about the amount of time these girls dedicate to music.
“I practise on the piano for just about ten minutes,” one child said; another quickly butted in, “I can only spend half an hour, nothing more.” “If you love music, you will care less about time,” Ahmed told them, as he guided the students through the music workshop that was organised to motivate schoolchildren to focus on their musical abilities. What was surprising was the single-mindedness of these girls.
Amira had been suffering from a bad cough ever since she landed in the sultanate, but that did not hold her back from performing. She held her cough through a Fritz Kreisler piece; her face stiffening from time to time, but her hands still working effortlessly on the violin.
By the end of the workshop, Amira and Mariam who played some exceptionally difficult solo and duet pieces, including the soulful Memory from the musical Cats, and Concerto in G by Vivaldi - with their mother Nora Emody providing accompaniment on the piano – had all the children raving.
Born to a Hungarian mother and Egyptian father, Amira and Mariam, who live with their parents in Germany, are a treasure trove of talent. Amira is already a child prodigy of sorts, having won the first prize at the prestigious competition Jugend Musiziert in Germany. She was in Muscat last week to perform at the Royal Opera House.
“Amira took to music when she was not even walking or speaking. As far as I remember, she was always crawling towards the piano, trying to play the keys,” her father said, adding, “Since we both (parents) are concert performers, the only thing Amira heard as a child was music. So, it came naturally to her.” Incidentally, Amira, and not her parents, decided her musical vocation.
“We never forced music on her. When she was four, there was an open day at her music school in Germany. At that time, the children were introduced to the different musical instruments. Though there was a range of instruments to chose from, my daughter chose the violin.” Ask him why she was drawn to the four-stringed instrument, and he quipped, “Let’s say she was drawn to the music teacher Alexander Gavrilenko. He is extremely good and has a way with children.”
It is under the guidance of Gavrilenko, a Ukrainian, that Amira developed her musical abilities at astounding speed. “Her music teacher tells us that she’s always on top of her game…almost two levels ahead of kids her age,” Ahmed said. “Sometimes he tries to set new challenges for her by giving her difficult pieces, especially during the vacations, but she manages to perfect them without too much trouble,” added Nora, saying that her teacher is then compelled to look for tougher musical pieces.
It wasn’t surprising when younger sister Mariam, another natural, picked up from Amira; she performs alongside her mother and sister at concerts in Germany. “Amira has a very important role as a mentor in her sister’s life. They don’t really compete with each other and look forward to playing together.
Even Mariam teaches her sometimes. They are positive critics to each other,” Nora said. With invitations to perform at the State Symphony Orchestra of Mexico, Cairo Symphony and Macedonia Philharmonic orchestras this year, Amira has a tight season ahead of her.
“This is absolutely normal for her. She is a born performer,” her parents claimed, because, “For Amira (and her sister), music is not only about playing at concerts, it is part of their life… one that they really love and enjoy.