Music from the heart

People -
Elham Al-Marzouqi has a passion for music after learning the piano as a child. Now, TAQA’s Legal Counsel plays the cello for the Dubai Chamber Orchestra

String sonatas and Rachmaninoff recitals embrace in a musical ritual in Elham Al-Marzouqi’s world. Ever since she was a young girl, notes leapt off the page and bombarded her senses in a salvo of sound.

When Mrs Al-Marzouqi was just seven years old, she started learning the piano. More than 25 years later she is a respected member of the Dubai Chamber Orchestra as a cellist.

“My mother, Shahnaz Hashimi, owned and directed the Abu Dhabi Music Institute, which was the first of its kind and was recognised by the Ministry of Education in Abu Dhabi back in the 1980s and 1990s,” recalls Mrs Al-Marzouqi, 35, an Emirati who works at TAQA’s headquarters in Abu Dhabi as Legal Counsel. “It was then when I started learning the piano at a very young age.”

After graduating from the International School of Choueifat in Abu Dhabi, she studied English literature and French language and literature at the University of Warwick in the UK. She later did a Master of Arts in Legal Studies and then a Masters degree in International Law at the University of Bristol.

In 2004, Mrs Al-Marzouqi did a Legal Practice Course at the University of the West of England before embarking on a two-year training contract at a law firm in London. She qualified as an English solicitor in 2006.

Playing for pleasure

During this period, her involvement in music was confined to the living room. “I was mainly playing for pleasure,” says Mrs Al-Marzouqi, whose husband, Anthony, is a British national.

But in 2009 her musical passion took a new direction when she decided to take up the cello to fulfil a cherished ambition. “I wanted to be part of an orchestra and I loved the sound of the cello,” she says. “I started taking cello lessons when I was living in Bahrain while working for Norton Rose and then later with Bahraini law firm Hatim S. Zu’bi & Partners. String instruments are not easy as you have to deal with issues of intonation as well as musicality,” she adds.

To turn her dream into reality, Mrs Al-Marzouqi studied the cello under the Russian violinist and cellist Elena Cherny when she moved back to the UAE in 2010 before auditioning with the Dubai Chamber Orchestra.

“Elena told me about the orchestra and I decided to try it out. I was apprehensive as many musicians were of a professional level but everyone is so down to earth and made me feel very welcome,” she says. “I definitely feel I have improved since playing with the orchestra. Counting beats in music has never been so important. You realise that intonation plays a huge part and you are forced to listen out for the other players.”

Concentration is vital, along with a rigorous practice routine. During the year, the Dubai Chamber Orchestra performs three to four concerts, which are usually recorded and shown on YouTube. “The orchestra mainly plays in Dubai and the concerts are usually free,” says Mrs Al-Marzouqi. “It’s very enjoyable.”

Inspiration is never far away. She admires musicians such as the Russian classical pianist Evgeny Kissin, who became an international sensation as a child prodigy. He is now widely acclaimed for his moving interpretation of the works of the Romantic repertoire, particularly Frédéric Chopin, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Franz Liszt.

“I was fortunate enough to hear Evgeny Kissin perform several times in Britain and he is a prolific pianist. His rendition of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 3 is wonderful,” she says.

Influential cellists

Yo-Yo Ma, the famed American cellist born in Paris to Chinese parents, and the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich have also influenced her. Ma’s performances have enthralled concert audiences around the world as well as in Hollywood. His distinctive cello style has featured on the movie soundtracks of Seven Years in Tibet, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Master and Commander and Memoirs of a Geisha.

“With respect to cellists, I admire Yo-Yo Ma and was lucky enough to hear him perform in Abu Dhabi,” she says. “The late Rostropovich is another cellist who is a heavyweight giant. Not only was he a great performer, he also had the ability to impart his knowledge to other cellists in order to enhance their performance via his masterclasses.”

Naturally, classical composers have shaped Mrs Al-Marzouqi’s musical outlook. The European greats such as Rachmaninoff, Bach, Beethoven and Mozart roll off her tongue with the rhythmic melody of a Brahms piano concerto in D minor.

“In terms of composers, Rachmaninoff is one of my favourites,” she says. “His pieces, especially his piano concertos, are beautiful but technically very difficult. I was fortunate enough to play his pieces when I studied the piano and I’m planning to master his Cello Sonata in G Minor for the advanced certificate.

“There are many other composers, including Bach, who was a genius, Mozart for his operas and symphonies, and Beethoven for his symphonies,” she adds.

With music being such an important part of her life, it is remarkable that Mrs Al-Marzouqi decided to spend her working life in an office instead of a concert hall.

“I played around with the idea of being a professional musician,” she says. “But that would entail intense study and training, either via professional diplomas or going to a music conservatory. I am already training for advanced certificates in cello, which will ultimately pave the way towards the professional diplomas. But that is in the future.”