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A.R. Rahman Set to Release 16 New Compositions With Firdaus Orchestra

Oscar, BAFTA and Grammy-winning composer A.R. Rahman (“Slumdog Millionaire”) is set to release 16 new compositions with the Dubai-based Firdaus Orchestra.

Firdaus Orchestra is an all-woman ensemble of 55 musicians from 28 countries, mentored by the composer. It is the brainchild of Reem Al Hashimy, the CEO of Expo City Dubai. Monica Woodman is the conductor.

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The first of the 16 tracks is titled “Unsung.” “It is a tribute to all the people who produce things and they don’t want to get noticed. They just do things — like an angel, or fairy godmother or father. And they do things, helping other people to shine. It could be your parents, teacher, it could be somebody who gives charity, can be somebody who’s creating something incredible, but they don’t want to be known. They just wanted to do for humanity. So it’s a tribute all those people behind something great, but they don’t want to be celebrated,” Rahman told Variety. “The tune evolved from deep within the soul.”

The compositions, which are 90% instrumental with some choral elements, are about a variety of themes, including humanity, space, love and relationships. “Unsung” is due to be released this week, and the rest of the songs over the year, with 17-minute composition “Humanitas,” which has Indian classical elements, likely to be the next.

“People love instrumental music, people love music without words, because some of those pieces actually speak much more than just words,” Rahman said. “Sometimes the language limits an audience to certain things, but here when you talk about instrumental, especially orchestral music, it has a more global appeal, I feel, because in case it gets Spotify playlisted, in some of the pieces, a modern, neo-classical kind of thing, then it has scope of going beyond my usual audience, to a bigger audience.

“I’m so used to watching a movie or doing musical theater where you have a subject. And I think it’s incredible to just think about composing something just for orchestra. Some of them are super experimental. Some of them are melodic stuff,” Rahman added.

On the evolution of the Firdaus Orchestra, Rahman said, “A lot has happened, I think they’re more accessible. Because initially they’re all from different traditions, in the Western tradition and Arabic tradition, Indian tradition. Now it’s a treat to work with the Firdaus Orchestra.”

The orchestra didn’t have a studio when it was conceived in 2020. Now they operate out of the state-of-the-art Firdaus Studio in Dubai. “It is a very complex studio. It took a lot of time for all the staff to learn what it’s capable of. Like the thousands of channels, everything can be cross-connected, and added for ambience and we can record 100 mics at the same time and choose data for that,” Rahman said.

Rahman is looking eastward to enhance the orchestra. “I do want to work with soloists, maybe we will get some Eastern solos like erhu [Chinese violin] players for the Firdaus Orchestra collaboration in future,” Rahman said. The composer said he has fond memories of woking with Chinese filmmaker He Ping, who died last year, on 2003 magnum opus “Warriors of Heaven on Earth.” The filmmaker was due to travel to Prague to collaborate with Rahman at the time, but the SARS outbreak put paid to those plans and Rahman composed on his own there, he said.

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