“I never expected to hold the title of ‘first Emirati cellist in the UAE’. It was a shock when I realized that I was the only Emirati woman to play the cello professionally,” says Elham Al Marzooqi , who began his musical journey at the age of five.
Born and raised in Abu Dhabi, Elham studied piano at her mother’s music institute, one of the first music schools to open in the emirate in the 1980s. for the cello and develops a fascination for orchestras and the camaraderie between musicians. “I loved listening to Yo-Yo Ma’s CDs. He was my biggest inspiration. I quickly found a cello and a teacher, and never looked back,” Elham recalls. “It was much easier to learn because of my musical training and I fell in love with the sound of the cello and the different ways I could express myself through music. I am the proud owner of a 2018 German cello made by Wolfgang Schnabl. It is an utterly divine instrument with a magnificent sound.
Honing her craft and honing her musical calling, Elham performed with community orchestras before transitioning to professional ensembles, while building and maintaining a successful career as senior legal counsel at Flash Entertainment, as well as raising a family. “I’m not going to lie, juggling it all is hard. Your time management skills need to be on point,” admits Elham. Balancing a day job with formal rehearsals and check-ins three times a week is a feat in and of itself, let alone workouts from home. “Luckily I have a great support network and my husband is my biggest advocate. He understands how important both careers are to me. I’m also very lucky to have my parents who live next door. My advice is to delegate, delegate, delegate. As mothers, we feel we have to do everything, but we have to allow others to help us manage things.
Since 2011, Elham has performed with various renowned orchestras including NSO Symphony Orchestra, Dubai Chamber Orchestra, Dubai Pops Orchestra, Emirates Community Symphony Orchestra, Dubai Philharmonic Orchestra, Arabia, the Sharq Orchestra and the Dubai Singers Orchestra. She is also a member of the Emirati music trio, UAE Pioneers Musicians.
Carving out a niche in the professional music industry hasn’t always been an easy task, and in an industry where she considers women to be underrepresented, Elham’s passion and determination have certainly paid off. . “There’s not enough female representation in the music industry,” she explains. “Not only as musicians, but also behind the scenes, with sound engineers, music composers, etc. Therefore, becoming a member of the Firdaus Orchestra, a pioneering all-female professional orchestra, is very refreshing.” After an arduous audition process, Elham was the only Emirati musician selected to join this inspired project between Expo Dubai 2020 and AR Rahman, which is celebrated for a vast body of work for film and music. scene, most famous for the score of the film, Slumdog Millionaire, which won the distinguished composer the BAFTA, Golden Globe, Academy and Grammy awards.
Describing playing the cello as “a journey of a lifetime” and regardless of the high benchmarks professional players can reach, Elham explains that musicians learn something new every day through dedicated practice. “That’s one of the many reasons I love it so much, there’s no end date. Learning an instrument is akin to sculpting. You work on one area and then go away and start working on another field. In the words of the influential Catalan cellist Pablo Casals, when asked why he was still practicing at the age of 90, he replied: “Because I think that I’m making progress.” Elham says candidly.
As for his favorite songs to play? “There are so many, depending on whether we’re talking about solo repertoire or orchestra,” she explains. “My favorite solo pieces would undoubtedly be Bach’s Cello Suites. You can play these plays for life and you will learn something new each time. Along with orchestral pieces, I have a soft spot for Beethoven’s Symphonies, especially Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. As cellists, we are very lucky because we have such a beautiful repertoire to choose from.
With a long list of highlights and achievements throughout his musical career, including a recent project with the Abrahamic Symphony: Unity of Three in Poland, with the Beethoven Academy Orchestra. The First Interfaith Symphony composed by Oscar and Grammy Award winner, Emmy Award winner (and Oscar nominee) David Shire, composer John Debney and Emirati composer Ihab Darwish, was a delight for Elham. Other pinch moments include two performances with Italian operatic tenor, Andrea Bocelli – a remarkable memory she recalls while performing in Al Ula, Saudi Arabia, getting “rather emotional at one point as the music and synergy were so beautiful!”.
Elham’s advice to women trying to break into typically male industries? “Listen to your inner voice, you can do it! and “understand that there will always be opponents.” Ignore them.” We totally agree and can’t wait to see what’s next for Elham, the inspirational musician who created the soundtrack of her own life.