Sunday interview The artistic director Till Janczukowicz explains how the Abu Dhabi Classics series will thrust the city into the cultural spotlight.
Hitting a high note
"Music should strike fire from the heart of man and bring tears from the eyes of woman." The words are attributed to Ludwig van Beethoven and if they are to be believed, music lovers in the UAE are in for a heart-churning year as some of the finest orchestras and artists in the world make their Arab debut. The Vienna Philharmonic, the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra London, Cecilia Bartoli, Zubin Mehta, Lang Lang, Maxim Shostakovitch, Lorin Maazel and Petra Lang - the names alone are enough to make aficionados drool with excitement. And the fact that these stellar artists will be performing here firmly establishes Abu Dhabi as the cultural epicentre of the Middle East. Putting it simply, the year-long programme, known as Abu Dhabi Classics, featuring the core elements of the European musical heritage, is going to be an incredible cultural treat, the aim of which is to establish firm foundations for the UAE's future musical development. It is a collaboration between the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture & Heritage and artistic director Till Janczukowicz, whose accolades include involvement in some of the world's most prestigious music festivals. Janczukowicz's experience includes a concert in the Vatican attended by 8,000 people to honour the inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 and the performance of Placido Domingo at the World Cup 2006. "When I heard what was going on in Abu Dhabi in terms of cultural developments that were truly impressive I thought about how to contribute to this emerging cultural centre," Janczukowicz says.
Janczukowicz flew from Berlin to Abu Dhabi to present his ideas to Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan, the chairman of ADACH and of the Tourism Development and Investment Company, and met with Mohammed Khalaf al Mazrouei, the director general of ADACH, and Zaki Anwar Nusseibeh, the adviser to the ministry of presidential affairs and the deputy chairman of ADACH. They spoke about a performing arts series and an audience development programme that was not just a festival that took place over in two weeks, but something that would run through the entire year. "Everybody can have a vision and an idea but you need a partner to share your vision and to say 'I want this idea to happen'. Mohammed Al Mazrouei wanted this to happen and now it is going to happen under the patronage of Sheikh Sultan." Illustrious as the proposed programme is, it was not enough on its own. A more integrated approach was needed that would inform and educate children and students along with people who have never been exposed to this type of music. So alongside the concerts there will be a carefully constructed programme of onstage talks from musicians and conductors, interviews and workshops, and visits to local schools. It's an approach that is already being embraced by major musical institutions all over the world in an effort to make classical music familiar to new audiences. "We need something that leads to audience development," Janczukowicz says. "It's not enough to bring these great artists here. We need to create context. All the great orchestras do this now. In the USA as much as half of the management staff are involved in public relations, audience development, and sponsoring." The Abu Dhabi Classics Academy is designed to build bridges between artists and local communities. In May next year Bobby McFerrin, the African-American jazz vocalist and conductor famed for his extraordinary vocal range, arrives in Abu Dhabi a week prior to his concert in order to visit schools and meet with local artists such as the poets who participated in the Millions Poet television programme. "We will put them together in a room and see what results," says Janczukowicz. McFerrin, best known for his 1988 hit Don't Worry, Be Happy, will also have sessions with local musicians and the resulting collaborations will form the basis for a concert. Similar agreements have also been negotiated with orchestras such as the Philharmonia Orchestra London and the Vienna Philharmonic. Several musicians will either come to the UAE before their concerts or stay on for days afterwards in order to visit local schools and work with staff and pupils on classical music. In this way interest will be generated among youth and their families. Another initiative is the formation of a children's choir from Emirati schools that will perform alongside one of Germany's leading radio orchestras. Organisers are especially targeting children who don't know anything about music. Jorma Panula, a Finnish conductor and teacher known among musicians as the leading teacher of conductors, will be giving a masterclass in conducting at Al Khubairat School in February. He will teach conducting students who apply online. "They can apply through the internet and they will receive five days of lessons under his tutelage," he says. This is also created for guest listeners who can experience how big maestri are being taught." Some concerts will be recorded for television programmes, depending on copyright agreements, and audio streams will be created for the internet.
Janczukowicz is also anxious to encourage local initiatives ranging from traditional music to local choirs or the UAE Philharmonic Orchestra. His first priority, however, is to expose the classical-romantic core repertoire in the best possible interpretations to the UAE. During the first five years the Classics will concentrate on the masterpieces of composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Wagner and Mahler, while introducing more modern composers, especially those already known to children from their association with the movie industry. Howard Shore's musical score from the Lord of the Rings trilogy is a perfect example. It will be featured in a special family concert dedicated to the three films and Shore himself will be there. "You cannot force anybody to come to classical concerts," Janczukowicz says. "You can only build all kinds of bridges and try to show all aspects of classical music: it is passionate, glamorous, enriches your life, contributes to your inner balance and the beauty of your daily life. That's why - in addition to presenting the best of classical music - we go to everybody who is interested, for example to schools, universities and so on." If three or four musicians talk to teachers and children about their repertoire and their work and what they are going to perform, they will create interest that way. "We have also set up a children's choir from local schools and they are already rehearsing their music. Then we will fly in the orchestra and the children will perform with them. The aim is to get society involved. Many concerts have an introduction where the audience will be told about the music they are going to hear, about the history of the orchestra and so on." Janczukowicz, who has helped create this sort of infrastructure in other parts of the world, believes it is one of the essentials to build bridges between performers and communities. He also feels the UAE is ready for it. "There are many successful classical music initiatives in the UAE and everybody felt the time is right now for a more concerted approach with an all year round programme," he says. The speed at which the Abu Dhabi Classics was conceived, given the green light, announced and organised is impressive. The first discussions with ADACH took place in September last year, an agreement was reached in January and the first concert is scheduled for October. Clearly the artistic director's track record, experience and network of contacts have all been instrumental in putting together such a thrilling programme in such a short time. "The arrangement is that we are managing this for ADACH and working together to produce the Abu Dhabi Classics," he says. "We are invisible because we have to be completely free so that we get the best performers. "That is the essence of organising something like this. Anyone can make a phone call but do they call the right person? And does that person take their call and respond in the way that you want them to respond? There are always some ideas that you have that don't work out for the first year at any rate. Many major artists are booked years in advance, some have bookings up to 2015, especially when it comes to opera. Great singers are very much in demand because of the competition of the world's leading opera houses. Everyone wants to be the first to get hold of someone like (the Argentinian tenor Marcelo) Alvarez. It is often necessary to juggle around with dates but the art is in being able to persuade people to do that." The director's job is to nurture and cosset his stars, although he says there are fewer prima donnas in the world of classical music than among rock stars. "Some request rooms kept at special temperatures and some want special products to be used for cleaning so that the place smells the same as it does at home but this sort of request applies more to rock and pop stars. We don't have these kind of over fancy artists, thankfully." From an artist's point of view, performing in front of new audiences is something of an adventure. Most of them like to travel and experience other cultures and Janczukowicz is determined to make the best use out of their natural curiosity. The Bayreuth Festival Orchestra only rarely travel to other countries so their debut in the Arab world is one of the most exciting dates in the series. They will perform on Oct 25 at the Emirates Palace, and Katharina Wagner, the granddaughter of the composer Richard Wagner will be there on the night. "To open the series with this most prestigious institution is unique. You can see and feel that globalisation is happening also in culture," Janczukowicz says. Then there is the Vienna Philharmonic, also making its debut in the region. They will be performing in the open air Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain on March 13 in what promises to be a magical evening where the region's beautiful flowers will be on display in an echo of the orchestra's annual New Year's concert when flowers are flown in from San Remo. For Janczukowicz and his staff it means a constant round of international phone calls and whistle-stop scheduling, speaking to artists and their managers, booking hotels and travel along with organising the productions in the UAE. Arrangements have even involved the improvement to the acoustics of the Emirates Palace auditorium for classical music, taken on by a specialist company. "I have been travelling back and forth from Abu Dhabi because I have to see the artists in person and explain to them what is happening. I went to see Zubin Mehta in Florence, Lang Lang in New York, and Bobby McFerrin's manager in London. That's the way it is done." The initial costs for the first series are being sponsored by ADACH. At the same time, talks are going on with potential sponsors including a media partnership with the Abu Dhabi Media Company, owners of The National. From the first day, ADACH emphasised that the rationale for this project must be that it becomes, over a reasonable period of time, fully self financing. As a result, Janczukowicz presented a project that aims to achieve this over a maximum period of four years. An ambitious marketing campaign has been launched from the first series to ensure an international, as well as a national and regional public. Janczukowicz prefers not to talk about the cost of bringing such high profile orchestras and individual artists here. To bring one orchestra alone is a huge logistical and financial undertaking. "It involves getting 130 people from London to Abu Dhabi, booking 130 rooms at first class hotels, then there are the artists' fees, transportation costs." The value to a country of such an undertaking cannot be quantified by a mathematical equation, however.
"You recoup it indirectly. A dynamic cultural life represents an immense value to everybody: to the local society, to the young generation and to people that you want to attract from abroad. In the long run, it will bring cultural tourists. In order to achieve this, we must build the reputation of the Abu Dhabi Classics. The international visibility will grow over the years - you don't build a sustainable brand overnight. Like the composer Anton Bruckner said: In order to build big towers, you must spend most of the time with the fundament. There's a new society emerging here and culture is one of the main assets. If you are looking at how you want your country to be in 50 years' time you can't just sell tickets and deduct costs and say that's the value of the enterprise. It's much more than that. However, once everything is in place and the series is established, you attract sufficient tourists and sponsors and the series will financially exist on its own." He points to the world famous Salzburg Festival that receives ?14 million (Dh72.7m) of public money per year. It also attracts between three and five big sponsorships, bringing incoming revenue up to ?18 million with box office revenues on top of that. "They are creating ?240 million yearly worth of economic benefit to the country through employing people, tourism and enhancing other touristic activities. You have to see it as global investment and put it into a broad context." Janczukowicz says he is looking forward to the opening night on Oct 24 when Jeremy Irons, the Oscar winning British actor, will narrate the Journey of Emotions in the auditorium of the Emirates Palace. The journey begins in India, the birthplace of the Abu Dhabi Classics conductor-in residence Zubin Mehta, and follows the music of the gypsies from Hungary, represented by the violinist Roby Lakatos and his ensemble. It then travels through the Arab lands with Egypt's Musicians of the Nile, returning to central Europe with Till Brönner, the German jazz trumpeter, and Russia, the homeland of the classical pianist Arcadi Volodos. The emotional journey then crosses the Atlantic to the US, the birthplace of jazz, spirituals and the Broadway musical, featuring songs by the young American soprano Indra Thomas. Finally, the journey ends in Moorish-flavoured Andalusia in southern Spain with the flamenco group Arcángel. It will be the start of what Mohammed Al Mazrouei describes as "one of our pivotal cultural strategies" and will run till May next year. The Italian-born mezzo soprano Cecilia Bartoli, a major star of European opera will perform in November and the Classics will continue next year with performances by Maxim Shostakovich, the Russian-born conductor and son of Dmitri, who will lead the Philharmonia Orchestra London. Lang Lang, the celebrated Chinese pianist who played in public for the first time at the age of five arrives in March to perform with the Vienna Philharmonic led by Mehta. Venice's Orchestra del Teatro La Fenice, Spain's Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana under Lorin Maazel and the orchestra and chorus of Florence's Maggio Musicale directed by Mehta are also due to perform. The Abu Dhabi Classics will be the fulfilment of a joint vision to open up new stages for artists of world class calibre. Janczukowicz says, "It's all about having an idea and making that idea a reality. It's a process of learning for everybody. As soon as you start work you have to take stock and correct yourself every single day. We are bringing the best you can have in the performing arts here to Abu Dhabi."
To view the full programme for the Abu Dhabi Classics, visit www.abudhabi-classics.com. Tickets are available online at @email:www.timeouttickets.com, by phone at 800-4669 or +971 4 8567, and at Virgin Megastores Dubai and Abu Dhabi after Oct 10, and at Spinneys.