Home > Reviews > THE PHARAOHS’ GOLDEN PARADE – Hesham Nazih


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Pharaohs’ Golden Parade was an event held in Cairo, Egypt on 3 April 2021, during which twenty-two mummies belonging to Kings and Queens of the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt were moved from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to the new National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, a few miles away. The mummies moved include some of the most famous ancient Egyptian monarchs, including the legendary Rameses II. Each mummy was housed in a specially-designed sarcophagus filled with nitrogen to protect them, and then placed in a specially-designed vehicle with decoration based on Egyptian funerary boats. The whole thing was a grand, spectacular celebration of Egyptian culture, featuring light and laser displays, and parades of men and women in traditional dress accompanying these ancient rulers to their new resting places.

In addition to the parade, there was a simultaneous concert performed by the United Philharmonic Orchestra led by Egyptian maestro conductor Nader Abbasi, featuring original music composed by Egyptian film composer Hesham Nazih; the music was performed live and streamed to coincide with the visual broadcast of the parade, essentially acting as its soundtrack. The concert, which was attended by Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, included chants sung in Ancient Egyptian by soprano Amira Selim, as well as an original song, “A Reverence for Isis,” the lyrics of which were taken from inscriptions on the walls of the Deir el-Shelwit temple in Luxor, and from the Book of the Dead. Two other original songs were performed in Arabic by vocalists Reham Abdel Hakim and Nesma Mahgoub, both of which are gorgeous and exotic and mesmerizing, like something from an ancient time.

However, by far the most impressive part of the concert was the orchestral work by Nazih, which is absolutely immense, filled with themes and drama and powerful orchestral grandeur. The piece contains several passages, beginning with triumphant fully orchestral fanfare overture of great power and emotion. This is followed by a quieter, more contemplative, spiritual sequence led by a ney flute, and then a moving choral anthem which concludes with a wonderful, classically rich string flourish. A flamboyant trumpet voluntary accompanies scenes of Egyptian children running excitedly towards the parade route, and lighting up an immense obelisk. Women dressed in traditional Egyptian garb, carrying bowls of light, exit the Egyptian Museum to a snare drum tattoo, accompanied by members of the Egyptian military, and then a phalanx of charioteers with horses, all bathed in blue light.

Eventually the parade itself begins, and Nazih’s music erupts into spectacular orchestral and choral glory, bold, dramatic, intense, thematically rich, and mesmerizing when combined with the visuals of these long-dead kings and queens making their journey through contemporary Cairo. There are layered vocals with men and women intoning in superb call-and-response fashion, vivid cello ostinato, swirling string figures, bold explosions of brass. The music becomes magical, sweeping, almost operatic, as the convoy of pharaohs circle the obelisk, and rises to a rich and epic version of the theme heard at the beginning of the work as the pharaohs disappear from view. It’s all just utterly magnificent; there are echoes of Miklos Rozsa, Alfred Newman, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, and several others echoing through the work. It’s that good.

After the songs by Reham Abdel Hakim and Nesma Mahgoub, Nazih’s orchestra returns to perform the finale. Many of the thematic nuggets from the beginning of the work return, and Nazih allows them to grow and build, steadily, organically, moving through a crescendo, until eventually the pharaohs arrive at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization to a glorious brass fanfare. There is a passage of intensity and urgency, the choir adds a sense of portent and appropriate reverence, and everything climaxes with a soaring, sweeping, majestic coda for the full orchestra and chorus, a 21-gun salute, a final flourish that a Hollywood epic would have been proud to have.

At the time of writing there is no commercial album for The Pharaohs’ Golden Parade, but the entire broadcast from Egyptian TV can be viewed on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYDzynh5iCY. The musical part begins at around the 1:10.00 mark, and Nazih’s orchestral part begins at 1:14.20. The choral sequence begins at 1:26.30, and then the parade itself – with the most spectacular music – at 1:30.00. The orchestral intro to Reham Abdel Hakim’s song begins at 1:36.40 and then, after a brief interlude focusing on harps and solo violin, Amira Selim’s song begins at 1:43.50. The finale of Selim’s song – which is massive, and features the full orchestra and choir – accompanies footage of Egyptian women dancing hypnotically around the pyramids of Giza, and inside the two museums, dressed in traditional clothes, and moving like hieroglyphs. Eventually all three singers are on stage together, their voices harmonizing with the orchestra. The finale of the orchestral part begins at 1:56.30, with the climax as the pharoahs arrive in their new home beginning at the 2:00.00 mark.

It’s astonishing, and breathtakingly beautiful. Just watch it. I beg you.

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