Israel Philharmonic Orchestra summons the majesty of Mahler for historic Abu Dhabi show

Ensemble played first show in the Arab world since 1945

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The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra has broken new ground with its first show in the UAE.

The acclaimed ensemble, from Tel Aviv, performed at Emirates Palace on Tuesday as part of Abu Dhabi Classics, organised by the Department of Culture and Tourism — Abu Dhabi.

The concert marked its first performance in the Arab World for nearly 80 years, having only previously performed at the Cairo Opera House in 1945.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, attended the concert.

Also in attendance were a number of dignitaries including UAE Culture and Youth Minister Noura Al Kaabi, Zaki Nusseibeh, cultural adviser to the UAE President, and Israel’s first lady Michal Herzog.

For the occasion, the orchestra, led by chief conductor Lahav Shani, delivered its debut performance of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No1.

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra gala concert held at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa / The National

Written between 1884 and 1888 and inspired by the arts and culture of the German Romanticism period, the vivid piece continues the Austro-Bohemian composer's fascination with existential themes, such as the search for a noble and heroic life.

Containing five distinct movements playing with tempo and mood, the orchestra does a superb job of harnessing the work’s epic scope and intricacy.

A striking feature is the opening movement, as strings and clarinets summon the atmosphere of an early morning.

The orchestra channels the hazy vibe through deft fluttering woodwinds evoking the sound of birds and trumpets heralding the sunset with resolute fanfare.

That luminosity is slowly replaced by more solemn and introspective passages in the second and third movements, the latter reportedly written by Mahler as he contemplated the vicissitudes of love and fate.

The resolution in the powerful final movement, with its pensive brass exclamations and strident high strings as it barrels into a powerful and ultimately jubilant crescendo.

Lahav Shani is an Israeli conductor and pianist for the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Victor Besa / The National

Leaving the auditorium to a standing ovation from a near-capacity crowd, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra walk away from the performance with an assured new legion of fans.

Abu Dhabi Classics continues with a piano recital by Rebeca Omordia at Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation on January 20.

The award-winning Nigerian-Romanian musician, who lives in London, will bring an eclectic programme featuring contemporary and dynamic classical pieces by composers from Africa.

More information is available at abudhabiculture.ae

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