Just think about this for a minute - Mozart was performed publicly for the first time. . . Think about that again.
It's 2008. . . Mozart died in 1791.
From the Associated Press [boldface mine]:
A first for Saudis: Mozart performed publicly and women can attend
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - It's probably as revolutionary and groundbreaking as Mozart gets these days. A German-based quartet staged Saudi Arabia's first-ever performance of European classical music in a public venue before a mixed gender audience.
The concert, held at a government-run cultural centre, broke many taboos in a country where public music is banned and the sexes are segregated even in lines at fast food outlets.
The Friday night performance could be yet another indication that this strict Muslim kingdom is looking to open up to the rest of the world. . .
Public concerts are practically unheard of in the kingdom. Foreign embassies and consulates regularly bring musical groups, but they perform on embassy grounds or in expatriates' residential compounds, and the shows are not open to the public.
In the past couple of months, however, there has been a quiet, yet marked increase in cultural activities in Saudi Arabia. Lectures and a couple of segregated folk music performances were held on the sidelines of Riyadh's book fair. And Jiddah's annual Economic Forum opened with a surprise this February: a performance of Arab and western music.
"For half an hour, we did not quite know whether we had stumbled into an unknown Jiddah nightclub or whether it was some amazing mistake that would suddenly stop," wrote Michel Cousins in the English-language daily Arab News, describing the 30-minute show.
Friday's concert of works by works by Mozart, Brahms and Paul Juon was the first classical performance held in public in Saudi Arabia, said German press attache Georg Klussmann. It was advertised on the embassy's website with free tickets that could be downloaded and printed.
The excitement in the 500-seat hall was palpable as the largely expatriate audience walked in. . .
Japanese pianist Hiroko Atsumi, the quartet's only woman, said there was some debate before the concert about whether she should perform in an abaya, the enveloping black cloak all women must wear in public. She ended up settling on a long green top and black trousers. . .
Faleh al-Ajami, a university Arabic language professor, brought his wife and two sons to the concert, a rare opportunity for the whole family to do something fun together.
"It's a good step to introduce Saudis to classical music," al-Ajami, 50, said during the intermission.
"I was amazed at the sounds coming from the musical instruments," said his son Ziad al-Ajami, 11, a fan of hard rock. "I've never been to a live concert before."
For the expatriates, the evening was an opportunity to have a normal evening out in Riyadh, a city with no movie theatres and where women are not allowed in outdoor cafes.
One foreign couple held hands, while another husband put his arm around his wife's shoulders, both rare public displays of affection in the kingdom. The mutuwwa, the dreaded religious police tasked with enforcing public morality, were nowhere to be seen for a change. . .
But not everyone was impressed.
Abdullah al-Sabhan, his brother and three friends received invitations from a German business associate, but after half an hour, they left quietly.
"I'm bored," said al-Sabhan, 26, an engineer who prefers Egyptian pop music and had never heard of Mozart. "Let me leave before the second piece begins."
His brother, Saud, dismissed the notion that gatherings involving men and women together might one day become the norm.
"Saudi society wouldn't accept it. And girls aren't used to such mixed gatherings," he said, adding that if he had a sister, she certainly would not have been allowed to attend.
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