Grammy-award winner Joshua Bell dazzles in first Saudi concert
Ithra hosted violist Bell alongside pianist Alessio Bax for 2 nights of classical music
Updated 18 sec ago
DHAHRAN: On a chilly Dhahran night, Joshua Bell’s violin serenaded a full audience at Ithra’s Theater. Although everyone was wearing a mask, you could see excitement in their eyes.
“When I was growing up, Saudi Arabia was a very exotic place that was far away, and now I am here. Music made this happen. Music can bring us all together,” Bell told the crowd.
On plush red chairs, with social distancing stickers urging people to skip a seat, time stood still. The auditorium filled with the reverberations of strings and keys as US Grammy-award winner Joshua Bell took to the violin, with Italian classical pianist Alessio Bax playing in unison.
The violin and piano were in equal partnership; with the gentle stroking of violin strings and graceful glide of the piano, it pulled at our heartstrings. We each had the luxury to create our own individual interpretation as we collectively sat down and let the two instruments take us on a journey. We let our minds wander and stumble, and falter with the rhythm. Unlike a movie, we did not need to follow a plot or read subtitles — the concert provided a full journey through Europe without saying a single word. The pace went from fast to faster to slower at the end, because not only were Bell’s hands tired by then, but it helped ease us back into the pace of the current world.
The night started with arguably the most famous composer, Mozart, and then went on to Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, one of the most prominent composers of the Romantic era. The sound was raw, passionate, and at times, sounded like the composer ripped his heart out with his bare hands. Bach, to me, was an unraveling love story. At one point, Bell took out a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped beads of sweat, then continued with a calmness only found in still water. The violin seemed to weep then sigh as it told a story of love from the depths of despair and purest of joy. I would argue that the almost two hours of music took the audience on an emotional ride, swinging between youthful wonder and deep melancholy.
The energy was palpable.
Dhahran resident Faris Mahdi works in finance during the day but dabbles in art at night. He said that before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down, he used to frequently travel to Europe to attend live opera and ballet, and was pleasantly surprised to see it offered in his own backyard.
“I’ve attended other concerts at Ithra, but this is so nice. I didn’t know Joshua Bell, but I saw a post on Instagram and did a search and decided, why not? This is the type of concert that I’d normally travel abroad for, but now I can take my own car and just come,” he told Arab News.
Mahdi was surprised to find such a good turnout at the concert. He said he understood if pop music brought in the crowds, but did not expect classical music to attract people.
“I like to listen to classical music. It seems that even the radio favors fast-paced music, but the ear sometimes needs to be cleansed with calm sounds. I prefer to listen to something gentle and, let’s say, elevated. Tonight’s event might open up people’s horizons and allow the audience to seek a different flavor of sound. I was honestly very surprised to see such a big audience tonight,” he said.
The tiny booklets marking the program were in such high demand — and will likely become valuable keepsakes from the two-day event — that only a handful of audience members got to take one home on closing night.
In that program guide, Majed Z. Samman, head of performing arts and cinema at Ithra, wrote: “As part of our commitment to cross-culture exchange, we are privileged to be able to present some of the world’s most acclaimed artists to perform live here in Saudi Arabia. On this occasion, we are proud to present our audience with an unforgettable musical performance by world renowned violinist, Joshua Bell.”
Lamees Saad Almesfer, a 17-year-old high school senior, decided to take a chance and attend the concert. “None of my sisters or brothers really appreciate classical music, so I decided to come alone,” she told Arab News.
“I tried to make a story out of the music while it was playing. The first piece that he played, Mozart’s sonata for violin and piano No. 32 in B-flat major, was like the piano and the violin were speaking with each other — like a conversation. He was just repeating whatever the violin was saying. Music is like this; it’s words conveyed in a way that is nonverbal,” Almesfer said.
While many famous pieces were played, some were lesser known to Almesfer, and she appreciated all of the hard work, dedication, and practice it took for the music to sound so crisp and clear.
“Two chords can make 64 moods. The minute Joshua Bell walked in, my eyes started to cry — but I held it together. Each composer has a piece of their soul in the pieces, and we got to listen. It was just mind blowing because I never expected this world-renowned violinist to just be here in Saudi Arabia. I’m in shock,” she said.
Call of the wild puts historic Saudi village on tourist trail
Winter festival offerings range from wildlife sightings to poetry evenings
Over 60 young male and female volunteers are overseeing festival activities, including interactive games
Updated 23 min 42 sec ago
Hebshi Alshammari and Tareq Althaqafi
LAYNAH/MAKKAH: Desert tourists are heading to Saudi Arabia’s historic Laynah village as the first edition of the Zubaida Trail Winter Festival attracts visitors from the region and beyond with the promise of everything from poetry readings to rare wildlife sightings.
The nine-week festival, which will continue until Feb. 26, 2022, promises a seasonal escape and the chance to enjoy winter activities, as well as glimpse one of the more than 60 animal species in the region, including the Arabian bustard, Arabian wolf and spiny-tailed lizard.
More than 120 plant species, including acacia and sidr trees, and rare shrubs, such as awsaj, arfaj and ramth, can also be found in the area.
The festival is organized by the Imam Turki bin Abdullah Royal Reserve Development Authority, which is known for launching a wide range of environmental initiatives.
“The festival has become a great escape for locals and visitors to the area because of its appealing winter atmosphere. The festival’s numerous events are ideal for families, young people, the elderly and children, ” said Menahi Mite’eb, editor-in-chief of Rafha Today, an electronic-based newspaper.
Moneef Ali, who lives in Aewe, about 30 kilometers from Laynah, has taken his family to the festival twice in recent weeks to enjoy the winter activities, as well as a break from PlayStation and VR games.
Ali said that he hoped to see the King Abdul Aziz Historical Palace and the vintage cars on display.
“This is the best time to go to the festival,” he said.
Crafts, food and drinks made by productive families attracted a large crowd of visitors who came to buy gifts for their loved ones and friends.
Over 60 young male and female volunteers are overseeing festival activities, including folklore segments, poetry nights, a museum and interactive games.
Abdulsalam Alowaijan said that volunteering is helping reshape his skills and will assist him in his future career.
The 18-year-old said that he is learning how to deal with people and understand their needs.
Visitors to the festival can visit the historic palace, wells, routes and monuments via designated trips and paths.
“The festival has revitalized the region’s economy and tourism,” Mite’eb said, adding that the poetry nights have drawn large numbers of people because of well-known poets taking part.
Laynah, one of the oldest settlements in the Arabian Peninsula, is situated on a route that was part of the Zubaida Trail used by Iraqi pilgrims during their Hajj and Umrah journeys to Makkah.
The area is known for the abundance of waters and wells, as well as its historical significance. Historic sites include King Abdul Aziz Palace, built in 1935, and the old market or “souk,” named after Iraqi merchants who used to exchange goods with the people of Najd.
The Zubaida Trail, or Al-Kufi pilgrimage route, runs from Kufa in Iraq to Makkah, passing through the north and center of the Kingdom.
It was named after Zubaida bin Jafar, wife of the Abbasid Caliph Harun Al-Rashid, in recognition of her charitable work, in addition to the number of stops she ordered to be established along the trail.
The trail functioned as a trade route in the pre-Islamic era, but its importance later increased and it flourished during the time of the early caliphate. The trail reached its peak during the Abbasid era between 750 and 1258 when it became a properly paved road.
Stations, wells, pools and dams were established, and houses built along the trail leading to Makkah. Twenty-seven major stations have been identified, including Al-Sheihiyat, Al-Jumaima, Faid, Al-Rabadha, That-Erq and Khuraba.
With the increase in the number of Muslims in the early Islamic time, especially the Umayyad and Abbasid eras, the lack of water sources in Makkah and the holy sites posing a serious problem for residents, especially during the Hajj season.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sharif, a researcher into the history of the Makkah region, said that water scarcity was a problem, and a challenge for the people of Makkah and the pilgrims. At times, the price of Al-Badrah (a small bagpipe) was 10 dirhams or more, a very high price for most pilgrims.
When Zubaida learned about the water shortages the pilgrims had been facing, she ordered the digging of Ayn Zubaida, or Zubaida springs, in 810. This helped to ease water scarcity at the holy sites and surrounding villages for hundreds of years.
Al-Sharif told Arab News that Zubaida commissioned and paid for construction of Ayn Zubaida. She called on architects and engineers to address the problem.
The springs are an enduring symbol of the golden era of Arab culture, Al-Sharif said.
“It constituted a great example of Islamic heritage and a masterpiece of engineering that embodies the greatness of the people who lived in the vicinity of the two holy mosques. It is a testament to their determination to adapt to the difficult terrain and to build a great human civilization,” he said.
Saudi Arabia registers 4,535 new COVID-19 cases, 2 deaths
Ministry of Interior records 28,657 violations against precautionary measures
Municipalities close several businesses and issue fines to a number of others for breaching coronavirus protocols
Updated 17 min 14 sec ago
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Sunday confirmed 4,535 new COVID-19 infections in the previous 24 hours, meaning 652,354 people have now contracted the disease.
According to the Ministry of Health, the highest number of cases were recorded in the capital Riyadh with 1,408, followed by Jeddah with 566, Makkah with 199, Abha confirmed 166, and Madinah recorded 157.
Of the total number of cases, 655 remain in critical condition.
The ministry confirmed two new coronavirus related deaths, raising the total number of fatalities to 8,920 since the pandemic began.
The health ministry also announced that 5,072 patients had recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 599,834.
Over 54.8 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered since the Kingdom’s immunization campaign started. More than 23.5 million people have been fully vaccinated.
The Ministry of Interior reported 28,657 violations in the past week, with the highest number of breaches recorded in Riyadh with 7,979, followed by Madinah with 4,443, the Eastern Province with 3,582, and Makkah with 2,788. Najran region recorded the lowest number of violations with 537.
The ministry called on citizens and residents to abide by the preventive protocols and the instructions issued by authorities.
Saudi municipalities have also ramped up efforts to monitor compliance with health and safety measures.
The Eastern Province Municipality carried out 7,459 tours during the past week and field teams issued fines to 524 commercial outlets and closed 10 others for breaching protocols.
Jeddah municipality carried out 8,220 inspection tours of commercial centers and facilities in two days, and authorities identified 72 violations and closed 32 businesses.
Authorities from the Northern Borders Province, represented by Rafha Municipality, recorded 29 violations last week and closed nine facilities.
Officials have also called on the public to report any suspected health breaches by phoning the 940 call center number or contacting authorities through the Balady app.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected over 350 million people globally and the death toll has reached around 5.61 million.
Thai prime minister will discuss bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia on his two-day trip
Updated 23 January 2022
RIYADH: Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is to visit Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, the Saudi foreign ministry said.
The Thai prime minister will discuss bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia on his two-day trip.
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai visited Saudi Arabia in January 2020, marking the first visit by a Thai foreign minister in 30 years.
Saudi Arabia is a member of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), the cooperative framework for countries in the Asian region set up by Thailand in 2005 to promote closer economic cooperation among Asian economies. It also includes major economies in the Middle East. The ACD's headquarters are in Kuwait City.
During the ACD summit in Bangkok in 2016, Prayuth held talks with Saudi Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir.
Saudi Arabia’s ambitious space program provides foretaste of exciting collaborations to come
The Saudi Space Commission was launched in Dec. 2018 under the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform agenda
The state-funded body has struck cooperation agreements with the European Space Agency, UK, France and Hungary
Updated 23 January 2022
JEDDAH: More than half a century ago, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to set foot on the surface of the moon. Since this historic milestone, governments, scientists and now entrepreneurs have set their sights on more distant and ambitious goals.
From Jeff Bezos’ forays into space tourism with Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s dream of establishing colonies on Mars to NASA’s launch of the James Webb Space Telescope and the UAE’s Hope probe mission to Mars, space, it seems, is once again all the rage.
The Apollo astronauts’ momentous moonwalk of July 20, 1969, marked the culmination of more than a decade of breakneck scientific advance, fueled by the fierce Cold War-era contest between the US and the Soviet Union known as the “space race.”
Decades later, and with the benefits of vastly superior technologies, private sector finance, and a global profusion of scientific and engineering talent, a new space race led by the world’s emerging economies and wealthiest individuals is now underway.
A recent entrant in this new space race is the Saudi Space Commission, or SSC, launched three years ago by royal decree — its mission: To accelerate economic diversification, enhance research and development, and raise private sector participation in the global space industry.
Since its launch in December 2018, the Kingdom’s state-funded space program has struck deals with the European Space Agency, the UK, France, and Hungary to further cooperation.
The agency has also signed agreements with aerospace giant Airbus, joined the International Astronautical Federation, and launched illustrious scholarship programs to allow Saudi students to attend the world’s best universities offering courses in space sciences and aerospace engineering.
Although its space agency is relatively new, the Kingdom has a long history of involvement in satellite technology, much of it emanating from the King Abdul Aziz City of Science and Technology in Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia also played a key role in the Arab League’s formation of Arabsat, a satellite communications company, which launched its first satellite in 1985.
“The beauty is that you’re not starting from zero,” Col. Chris Hadfield, retired Canadian astronaut and former commander of the International Space Station, told Arab News in an exclusive interview.
“Even NASA, when they were formed in the late 1950s, they weren’t starting from zero. NACA, which was the predecessor to NASA, had been around since the 1920s, when the government recognized that aeronautics was coming.”
Hadfield is well known for his hugely popular video segments depicting life aboard the ISS, which famously included a zero-gravity guitar rendition of David Bowie’s "Space Oddity."
A heavily decorated astronaut, engineer and pilot, his many awards include the Order of Canada, the Meritorious Service Cross and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal. He was also named the top test pilot in both the US Air Force and the US Navy, and was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.
Hadfield has flown three space missions, building two space stations, performing two spacewalks, crewing the Shuttle and Soyuz, and commanding the ISS.
Now retired, he is an adjunct professor at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, an adviser to SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, board chair of the Open Lunar Foundation, and the author of three international bestsellers. His TED talk on fear has been watched 11 million times.
In Hadfield’s view, the SSC should now set out to clearly define its goals for the future of Saudi space exploration.
“The real key is to have a clear purpose for what the space agency is trying to accomplish, aims that are in line with serving the people of Saudi in the short and long term,” he said.
The ISS remains a potent symbol of human fraternity as well as the huge technological and scientific possibilities on offer when societies work toward a common end.
The space station’s history began on July 17, 1975, when Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov and American astronaut Deke Slayton shook hands in microgravity, having docked their spacecraft high above the French city of Metz.
The handshake was the byproduct of a 1972 agreement between the two nations to cooperate on the Apollo-Soyuz Test project. The US built a docking module for the Apollo shuttle that was compatible with the Soviet docking system to allow a flawless rendezvous.
Their meeting became a powerful symbol of unity, which paved the way for the joint Shuttle-Mir program and later the ISS itself.
Building a space agency is no easy feat. As a multidisciplinary domain, the industry demands a wide range of skills and expertise. Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in the sector and already has several achievements to its name.
In February 2019, the Kingdom launched its first domestically developed communications satellite — SGS-1 — from the Guiana Space Center. The launch was the result of a partnership between KACST and US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin.
In 2020, Saudi Arabia announced plans to invest $2.1 billion in the space program as part of its Vision 2030 reform agenda, the Kingdom’s long-term plan to diversify its economy away from oil and embrace a wide array of next-generation industries.
“In the time we live in now, space is becoming a fundamental sector of the global economy, touching every aspect of our lives on Earth,” Prince Sultan bin Salman, the first Arab, Muslim and royal in space, said at the time.
“Space business and the space economy are expected to grow into the trillions of riyals as we go forward. We believe there are a lot of opportunities that exist in the space sector and we, in Saudi Arabia, intend to tap these opportunities at all levels.”
In order to excel in space, the Kingdom will need an army of technical specialists in areas as diverse as cybersecurity, avionics and robotics, together with experts in propulsion, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
“If you look right across the world’s governments, there’s some subset that is working in the areas that are naturally space related, like telecommunications, atmospheric physics, weather forecasting or the military side of threats; there’s always the high ground advantage,” Hadfield told Arab News, highlighting the benefits of building a domestic space industry.
“It’s scientific in just trying to understand the Earth better. If you can go around (Earth) 16 times a day, if you can set a geostationary satellite that is looking at the whole (Arabian) peninsula, that whole part of the world, there is a huge amount of information to be gathered that is really difficult to gather from the surface.
“Then there is the technological development side. If you’re going to challenge yourself to build a satellite or build rocket ships or train people to fly to space or be part of the space station, start setting up a permanent human habitation on the moon, that’s a big technological challenge and that is good for the country from the academic side right through to the manufacturing side.”
But more than the obvious economic, scientific and strategic benefits, Hadfield believes investment in space technologies also provides societies with a sense of optimism and raises public aspirations.
“Apart from the scientific research and the technical development, it is raising people’s eyes beyond the horizon,” he said.
“Space exploration has a significant role in inspiring people to visualize a different future, to attempt things with their own lives, to train themselves to gain a new set of skills and turn themselves into somebody different in pursuit of being an astronaut that otherwise they might never have done with themselves. That, to me, that’s an important component.”
Saudi Arabia is well placed to capitalize on falling costs of launching rockets, advances in technology, and a growing public interest in space exploration. Its willingness to work with other space agencies is also a foretaste of exciting collaborations to come.
Reflecting on his own career in space, Hadfield said it is this kind of human fraternity, together with an enduring sense of duty, that will empower further innovations and new milestones in space exploration.
“It’s a life of service,” he said. “Service to agency, service to country and service to others.”
When a Saudi went to space
Prince Sultan bin Salman speaks exclusively to Arab News about his 1985 NASA mission and how he became the first Arab, Muslim and royal in space