Abu Dhabi Classics is now an established annual highlight of the UAE’s cultural calendar – but organisers of the long-running concert series refuse to rest on their laurels.
To this end, the 2016-17 programme, which was announced today, features a number of bold and innovative approaches.
In an effort to cater to an ever-broadening audience, the notable firsts for the series include the staging of a full classic opera, Don Giovanni, a ballet performance and a crossover evening of classically inspired pop music.
The theme of the season is One Thousand and One Nights, with a number of works during the eight-month programme of events inspired by fanciful stories and folk tales drawn from the region.
Here are five key performances to look forward to, plus a few other notable dates for your diary.
Richard Wagner Gala Night
Emirates Palace, October 6
The Abu Dhabi Classics season-opener signals a loud and clear statement of intent, with an entire evening dedicated to Richard Wagner, one of the most influential and controversial composers of all time.
The works of the German auteur, who changed the course of harmony with his unprecedentedly intricate and epic operas, will be brought to life by The Western Australia Symphony Orchestra, who are making their ADC debut.
The programme includes instrumental preludes to epics Tannhäuser, Lohengrin and Tristan and Isolde, alongside a suite from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
The orchestra will be joined by renowned New Zealand tenor and Wagner interpreter, Simon O’Neil, who will perform Lohengrin‘s famous aria In Fernem Land and operatic excerpts from Die Walküre and Parsifal.
Abu Dhabi Theatre, October 10
The season-opening entertainment continues with a rather more subdued, but equally powerful solo show from star soloist HÃ©lÃ¨ne Grimaud.
One of the world’s most singular – and eccentric – piano talents, this idiosyncratic French musician found fame while still in her teens, and is widely praised for bringing a fresh voice to the romantic masters.
She divides her time behind performing and writing – with three published books – and raising awareness of the threats to wolves, most notably through the Wolf Conservation Centre that she founded in New York in 1999.
Grimaud’s latest album, Water, flows between liquid-inspired 20th-century piano pieces, linked by fresh compositions from electronica producer Nitin Sawhney.
For her show in Abu Dhabi, traditionalists will be pleased to hear that during the first half, Grimaud will present the album’s classical content – lush late and post-romantic works by Luciano Berio, Claude Debussy, Leos Janácek, Franz Lizst, Gabriel FaurÃ©, Maurice Ravel and more – uninterrupted and without electronic trickery.
Whether or not she will perform on a piano marooned within a pool of water – as she has at previous concerts – remains to be seen. The second half of her concert will dedicated to Brahms’s Sonata No 2.
When Classic Meets Pop: Stephan Moccio
Al Jahili Fort, Al Ain, December 12, and Emirates Palace, December 14
He wrote the Miley Cyrus’s hit Wrecking Ball, but few people would be able to pick out Stephan Moccio in a line-up.
Making a novel outreach into crossover territory, Abu Dhabi Classics this season presents a programme titled “When Classic Meets Pop”, fittingly presented by a man who has achieved considerable success in both fields.
Canadian composer Moccio is best known as a Grammy-nominated writer-for-hire, who has written or co-written a number of international smashes, including The Weeknd’s Earned It and Celine Dion’s comeback hit A New Day Has Come.
But he is also the noted recording artist behind a series of instrumental albums, often of solo piano music.
In a bid to break down snobbish barriers, this special programme will feature Moccio presenting his work int a storytelling framework. Following an instrumental opening half, he will be joined after the interval by guest singers who will bring to life many of the popular hits he wrote. “There are many times when I find myself caught between opposing forces in my music,” says Moccio. “Is it classical or pop? Am I a performer or a composer? Do I collaborate or work alone?
“As a creator, these are questions that I face every day – and finding answers is somewhat of a balancing act, because they are usually somewhere in-between.”
The journey of Jordi Savall continues
Emirates Palace, January 13, and Bin Hamoodah Fort, Al Ain, January 15
After acclaimed performances at Abu Dhabi Classics in 2014 and last year, celebrated early-music specialist Jordi Savall returns with a brand new programme.
The Catalan composer, conductor and performer made history in November 2014 when he presented the world premiere of Ibn Battuta: The Voyager of Islam I – From Morocco to Afghanistan (1314-1336) in Abu Dhabi, a performance that was simultaneously broadcast around the globe.
That ambitious, globe-trotting conceptual programme imagined the music Battuta might have heard during his 14th-century travels through the Middle East and North Africa.
Now the journey continues as viol and rebab player Savall further follows the explorer through India, Indonesia and China, in Ibn Battuta: From Afghanistan to China (1336-1346).
Savall’s ensemble, HespÃ¨rion XXI, will be joined by musicians from India, China and the UAE.
Formally called HespÃ¨rion XX, Savall has led his early-music ensemble since 1974, and they are renowned for recovering forgotten melodies from Catalonia and beyond, and revolutionising contemporary performance traditions by presenting early music in the improvised manor in which it would have been heard in the days it was written.
The ensemble includes Moroccan oud virtuoso Driss El Maloumi, who will also perform a collaborative duet at NYU Abu Dhabi on October 27.
Vienna State Opera Gala presents Don Giovanni
Emirates Palace, February 8
One of the world’s best operas, performed by some of the greatest musicians on the planet – for true music lovers, it does not get much better than this.
Many critics and listeners regard Mozart’s Don Giovanni both as the composer’s greatest work, and as a high-water mark of the genre – a game-changing masterpiece that blurred the traditional lines between comedy and tragedy in unprecedented fashion.
Since its 1787 premiere, Mozart’s recasting of legendary lothario and libertine Don Juan has influenced generations of artists, with Lorenzo Da Ponte’s symbolistic libretto offering fuel to fire the imagination of writers and creatives in all mediums.
Presented in Abu Dhabi in a stripped-back, concertante version (without acting), this classic work will be staged by the Vienna State Opera, the resident company of the historic building of the same name, and a famous a stomping ground for some of the world’s best performers.
They will be accompanied by the Vienna Philharmonic – regarded among the very best orchestras in the world – which recruits directly from its ranks after a minimum of three years tenure.
Taking the baton at Emirates Palace will be conductor Patrick Lange, while Italian baritone Alessio Arduini will perform the title role, alongside Michele Pertusi, Irina Lungu, Olga Bezsmertna and Jinxu Xiahou.
Source: art & life