A guide to Abu Dhabi Festival 2020: from US jazz star Gregory Porter to the American Ballet Theatre's 'Romeo and Juliet'

The annual festival returns with a diverse array of performances set to hit the capital

Misty Copeland and Herman Cornejo, of the American Ballet Theatre, perform "Romeo and Juliet" for the first night of International Evenings of Dance for the Vail Dance Festival on Friday, Aug. 3, 2018, in Vail, Colo. (Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily via AP)
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Some of the biggest names in classical music, jazz and dance are set to appear as part of next year’s Abu Dhabi Festival.

The annual event, which runs from Tuesday, March 31, to Thursday, April 9, and organised by Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, will feature about a dozen performances held in both Emirates Palace and NYU Abu Dhabi.

Some of the artists taking to the stage next year include US jazz star Gregory Porter, Chinese-American cellist Yo Yo Ma, two performances by the acclaimed American Ballet Theatre, as well as a classical concert by the celebrated Cleveland Orchestra.

With the festival theme being Unity: Celebrating the Cultural Foundation, the event will pay tribute to the recently relaunched Abu Dhabi institution and the role it continues to play in enhancing the country's artistic landscape. Below are the major performances coming to the capital next year.

The festival preview: Al Raheel – The Departed

The preview concert is fast becoming a tradition of the Abu Dhabi Festival. Previous taste-tester performances included the likes of the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela in 2014 and the celebrated mezzo-soprano Joyce Di Donato last year.

For the 2020 event, the festival preview concert will be a multi-media poetry and theatre performance Al Raheel - Departure. Held at NYU Abu Dhabi on Friday, January 24, the production has Emirati playwright Reem Almenhali and US director Johanna Settle teaming up to create a contemporary work that explores various aspects of womanhood and offers a meditation on how life can subtly change us all.

A night at the opera: The Cleveland Orchestra with Simon Keenlyside

Abu Dhabi Festival's performance program begins with the regional debut of The Cleveland Orchestra. Described by the New York Times as "America's greatest orchestra," the ensemble is renowned for their expansive repertoire and technical excellence. This will be on display in their Emirates Palace performance, on Tuesday, March 31, when they take on Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Opus 64.

Joining them in the capital is Simon Keenlyside. The British baritone is a seasoned stagehand, having been actively touring for three decades. With critics hailing the warmth and clarity of his vocals, Keenlyside will perform various arias from the high profile productions he starred in over the years, such as in La Boheme (Marcello), The Merry Widow (Danilo) and as Figaro in the Barber of Seville.

Yo-Yo Ma returns

One of the hardest working people in the classical music business, the celebrated Chinese-American cellist returns to the Abu Dhabi Festival with an Emirates Palace concert on Wednesday, April 1.

This will be a markedly different festival concert than the one in 2017, where he was joined by The Silk Road Ensemble. Where that concert was more experimental, next year's gig is tailored for the purists. Backed by The Cleveland Orchestra, Ma will perform Dvorak's Cello Concerto in B Minor, Opus 104 and Schubert's Symphony No. 9 in C Major 'The Great', D 944.

Romeo and Juliet

Get your tickets early as this will surely sell out. The American Ballet Theatre will bring its version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet to Emirates Palace on Friday and Saturday, April 3 and 4.

The American Ballet Theatre will perform Romeo and Juliet as part of the 2020 Abu Dhabi Festival. Courtesy: ADMAF
The American Ballet Theatre will perform Romeo and Juliet as part of the 2020 Abu Dhabi Festival. Courtesy: ADMAF

Performing the masterful version created by the late British choreographer Kenneth Macmillan, fans can expect a delightful performance full of sumptuous sets and the kind of technique that makes the American Ballet Theatre one of the best dance companies in the world. Once again, the excellent Cleveland Orchestra will be on hand to perform the production’s evocative score composed by Sergei Prokofiev.

Emirates Youth Symphony Orchestra

This shall be an inspiring evening on all counts. Established in 1994 by Syrian-Czech violinist Riad Kudsi, the ensemble was one of the earliest classical music groups in the UAE and has performed at various festivals over the years. The players are top-notch, too, as the orchestra has an accreditation with the Premiere Music College of Prague.

The Emirates Youth Orchestra will perform Romeo and Juliet as part of the 2020 Abu Dhabi Festival. Courtesy: ADMAF
The Emirates Youth Orchestra will perform Romeo and Juliet as part of the 2020 Abu Dhabi Festival. Courtesy: ADMAF

The prestigious conservatory welcomes orchestra members each year where they study and put through their paces in a series of exams. Their UAE performance, on Monday April 6 at NYU Abu Dhabi's Red Theatre, also serves as the perfect introduction to classical music. The programme consists of a concise series of much loved works including Maurice Ravel's Bolero and Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D major.

A jazzy evening with a master

The festival will close in style, courtesy of a performance by modern jazz star Gregory Porter. Make no mistake, this is a big deal. Over the space of a decade, the American vocalist went from jobbing singer in New York to becoming the genre's biggest crossover star and selling out London's famed Royal Albert Hall. With over 20 million streams, his 2014 Grammy Award winning album Liquid Spirit remains one of the most streamed jazz albums of all time.

However, it was his follow up, Take Me to the Alley, which was released two years later, that saw Porter transition from clubs to performing in both large-scale halls and in some cases, arenas. His growing fan base is also down to his hit collaboration with UK electronic duo Disclosure. Porter lent his warm baritone to the 2015 deep house track Holding On, which went on to become a mainstay of clubs worldwide. Backed by a seasoned quartet, expect Porter to play a wide selection of songs from his career, in addition to tracks from last year's Nat King Cole & Me, a covers album dedicated to the late jazz great.

More information available at www.abudhabifestival.ae