Abu Dhabi Festival 2022 guide: Oscar-winning music, ballet, jazz and a powerful symphony

Annual festival returns with a hybrid programme of physical and online performances

Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu and his trio will perform as part of the Abu Dhabi Festival. Photo: Jazzablanca Festival
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A symphony in tribute to the Abrahamic Family House forms the centrepiece of the 2022 Abu Dhabi Festival.

Debuting online next October is The Abrahamic Symphony: Unity of Three, a sprawling piece inspired by the planned interfaith complex in Saadiyat Island, scheduled for completion next year.

Featuring a large cast of international musicians and vocalists from Muslim, Christian and Jewish backgrounds, Emirati co-composer Ihab Darwish described the work as the biggest project of his career.

“It reflects the UAE’s core values of peaceful coexistence between diverse religions and cultures, tenets on which this nation was established 50 years ago,” he said.

“This is a land that embraces all – a creative hub that thrives with tolerance."


Running under the theme Crafting the Emirates State of Mind: Creation, Innovation and Joy, and organised by the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, the year-long Abu Dhabi Festival returns to the UAE capital in January. It will feature a hybrid programme of events, including physical and streamed music and dance performances, with a preview concert to take place in December.

Festival founder Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo says this year's event aims to encompass the values of the UAE and Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father, as the country celebrates its 50th anniversary in December.

“Sheikh Zayed knew that the nation’s heart is its people," she said. "With wisdom, patience and humility, he crafted a multicultural country – diverse yet united, rooted in its place yet open to the entire world, proud yet friendly, strong yet peaceful, traditional yet innovative."

In addition to international festival co-commissions and co-productions, including Darwish’s tour of China with Beethoven Academy Orchestra in December 2022, and a New York City concert by Syrian-American oudist Faraj Abyad in February, the festival will showcase an eclectic music programme in the UAE capital.

Concerts will take place in various venues including Emirates Palace, Manarat Al Saadiyat and Umm Al Emarat Park.

Here are key shows to look forward to on stage and online, with full details to be revealed soon.

‘Music is Dangerous’ by Nicola Piovani

Saturday, December 11 at Emirates Palace

From US soprano Joyce DiDonato to Colombia’s Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, part of Abu Dhabi Festival tradition is the big preview concert.

This year’s event will be more resonant, considering it’s the first festival performance held physically in Abu Dhabi since March 2019.

Underscoring that occasion is Academy Award-winner Nicola Piovani.

The Italian film composer and pianist will lead us through a selection from his celebrated career spanning more than 130 films, including the acclaimed Life Is Beautiful, for which he won the Oscar for Best Original Score in 1999, as well as 1987’s Intervista, directed by Italian film maestro Federico Fellini.

Portrait of a Nation II

January to April, 2022 at Manarat Al Saadiyat

The Abu Dhabi Festival begins its 2022 programme with a four-month exhibition exploring the arts landscape of the UAE.

That eclectic visual terrain will be represented by 100 pieces, including 15 commissions, from 60 artists residing in the UAE.

Interwoven with the paintings, photography and 3D installation are archival images and cultural memorabilia spanning the country’s 50 years.

A series of artists’ discussions and workshops are also planned as part of the exhibition.

A Ballet Gala by Roberto Bolle

Sunday, January 9, 2022, at Emirates Palace

Roberto Bolle became the first Italian dancer invited to perform at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 2009 and he never looked back.

More than two decades later, he comes to Abu Dhabi, performing three distinct pieces showcasing some of the range that has him hailed as one of the best dancers of his generation.

‘Noucentisme’ by Lina Tur Bonet and Alba Ventura

Thursday, February 17, 2022, at Manarat Al Saadiyat Auditorium

With the UAE capital already hosting a number of flamenco concerts this year, it is time to hear a different sound from Spain.

Violin virtuoso Lina Tur Bonet and pianist Alba Ventura will team up for a programme of classic Spanish composers including Eduard Toldea and Enrique Granados.

Paolo Fresu Trio

Sunday, March 6, 2022, at Umm Al Emarat Park

Throughout his three-decade career, Italian jazz man Paolo Fresu’s mission has been to expand people’s perceptions of the trumpet.

His Abu Dhabi Festival performance will feature a melange of styles and vibes, as it veers from a classic big band sound to a more frenzied rock attitude.

‘Musicas De Espana’ by Daniel Ligorio

Monday, March 7, 2022, at Umm Al Emarat Park

The breadth of Spanish classical music will be celebrated in this vibrant concert by pianist Daniel Ligorio.

Backed by castanets and flamenco dancers, the repertoire comprises largely baroque compositions injected with an extra dose of rhythm.

The Abrahamic Symphony: Unity of Three

October 2022

Emirati composer Ihab Darwish. Supplied

The planned opening of the Abrahamic Family House, the interfaith complex in Saadiyat Island, will be marked with a streamed concert befitting its values.

Written by Emirati composer Ihab Darwish alongside David Shire and John Debney from the US, The Abrahamic Symphony: Unity of Three is a streamed performance that will feature four movements, three choirs, 10 soloists and three vocalists from Muslim, Christian and Jewish backgrounds.

Powering the stirring performance is the Beethoven Academy Orchestra under the baton of Diego Navarro.

Updated: November 15, 2021, 1:07 PM