x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

An orchestra for the ages

Beginning in October, composers, opera singers and musicians will arrive for an eight-month classics festival, marking yet another step in the city's emergence as a cultural capital.

The London Philharmonic Orchestra will recreate hits from Walt Disney classics such as The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast
The London Philharmonic Orchestra will recreate hits from Walt Disney classics such as The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast

ABU DHABI // Some of the most glittering names in classical music, including the Vienna Philharmonic, Cecilia Bartoli and Zubin Mehta, will grace stages in the capital this autumn as part of a new, eight-month-long festival intended to help the emirate fulfil its ambition of becoming the cultural epicentre of the Middle East. The stars who will play at the Abu Dhabi Classics festival include Bartoli, the Italian-born mezzo-soprano opera star, and Roby Lakatos, a Hungarian gypsy violinist known as "the devil's fiddler".

One concert will bring together two powerhouses ? the Vienna Philharmonic, one of the finest orchestras in the world, under the baton of Zubin Mehta, the flamboyant award-winning musician from India who has conducted some of the world's largest orchestras. Howard Shore, the Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe-winning composer behind the score for The Lord of the Rings, will be appearing at a family concert dedicated to the film trilogy, while the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which produced the likes of Yehudi Menuhin and Malcolm Sargent, will recreate hits from Walt Disney classics such as The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast.

Mohammed Khalaf al Mazrouei, director general of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, which announced the star-studded festival yesterday, said: "Abu Dhabi is striving to make art, music and culture a trend in daily life and aims to become a leading cultural hub in the world. "During this significant music event, which will last most of a year, the authority will provide beautiful moments of magic from the music world to its residents and to thousands of tourists who are expected to come to Abu Dhabi.

"William Shakespeare once said: 'I cannot imagine life without music'. We cannot imagine enhancing the course of the overall renaissance of this beautiful Arab city, so rich in heritage, culture and civilisation, without further strengthening and developing the cultural scene." This ambitious musical project, he said, "represents one of our pivotal cultural strategies". He added the festival has spurred construction plans, which include a performing arts centre with opera house, concert halls, theatres, museums and exhibition pavilions.

The event, which will be launched in October and run until May next year, is expected to attract thousands of tourists. Organisers said the festival will bring the UAE a step closer to rivalling cultural hubs, such as London and New York. The city's strategy to recreate itself has already led to plans to open branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums. "The list reads like a Who's Who of classical music in our time," said Till Janczukowicz, executive and artistic director of the festival.

"These extraordinary artists have all agreed to take part in an incredible journey that will start in October with the inauguration of Abu Dhabi Classics. "This journey will get underway in a number of indoor and outdoor venues, in schools, universities and on concert stages and will present a variety of styles as well as an array of major educational activities. "Music, like no other art form, can build bridges between cultures, generations and nations."

Mubarak al Muhairi, the director general of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, said the event would be promoted across the Middle East and Europe. "The Abu Dhabi Classics is an exceptional programme which will have widespread appeal among a breadth of age and nationality groups," he said. "We anticipate its outreach to be well beyond Abu Dhabi. It will attract music lovers from other emirates within the UAE, the wider GCC and Middle East region as well as other markets, particularly Europe. The authority will lend its full support to this worthwhile initiative."

The festivities will start on Friday, Oct 24, with a performance by Lakatos, Hungary's king of gypsy violin music. He will be accompanied by Till Brönner, a German jazz trumpeter and composer who has been likened to Chet Baker and has featured on numerous German film soundtracks, as well as Arcadi Volodos, a Russian pianist who has gained notoriety for his ability to play Polka Italienne, a duet by Rachmaninov, single-handedly.

The gala launch will be followed by a rare performance by the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, which usually plays only in Germany to celebrate the work of Wagner, the 19th century German composer. Abdullah Ibrahim, a South African Muslim convert and bebop pianist, whose style has been compared with that of jazz legends such as Thelonius Monk and Duke Ellington, will perform on the terrace of the Emirates Palace hotel in November. Now based in New York and Cape Town, he has written soundtracks for films including Chocolat, which starred Juliette Binoche, and played at a concert honouring Nelson Mandela when he became president of South Africa.

The year will end with Bartoli, described by The Washington Post as "a celebrity of incomparable stature", revisiting classics from the era of Rossini and Bellini in her first performance in Abu Dhabi. The classical tour de force will continue throughout next year with performances by Maxim Shostakovich, the Russian-born conductor who will lead the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Lang Lang, the award-winning Chinese pianist who played in public for the first time at the age of five, and Bobby McFerrin, an American singer whose bestselling hit Don't Worry, Be Happy, topped the charts in the 1980s.

Orchestras due to descend on the UAE from around the world include Venice's Orchestra del Teatro La Fenice, Spain's Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana and the orchestra and chorus of Florence's Maggio Musicale. To ensure the celebration's appeal to children, there will be a series of family concerts, workshops and links with schools, culminating in a joint performance of the Lord of the Rings symphony by the United Abu Dhabi Children's Chorus and the German Radio Philharmonic.

Many of the musicians will be visiting schools in the area, while pupils at Al Khubairat School will be given a masterclass by Jorma Panula, a Finnish conductor and teacher. Keith Lockhart, conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, will hold a session called "the magical music of Walt Disney". Tickets to the events will be available from Aug 1 at www.timeouttickets.com.

tyaqoob@thenational.ae