Abu Dhabi Festival announces line-up of major performances for 2018

The Abu Dhabi Festival returns with a bumper crop of concerts featuring experimental music, ballet, orchestral performances and a classy dose of Bollywood splendour

Spain’s Compañía Nacional de Danza will put on a performance of Don Quixote at Emirates Palace as part of Abu Dhabi Festival. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Festival

The Abu Dhabi Festival revealed its line-up of major performances to run from March 9 to March 30.

To celebrate the landmark 15th edition, the arts and culture event has announced a sprawling program of performances - most of which takes place at Emirates Palace - blending East and West through music, opera and dance.

One of the most intriguing shows on the bill is the UAE premiere of Four Movements for Two Pianos on March 24, where pianists Dennis Russell Davies and Maki Namekawa will perform pieces composed by experimental music composer Phillip Glass. The 80-year-old American has also been announced as the recipient of the Abu Dhabi Festival Award for his influential career in the arts. It is to be confirmed whether he will travel to the capital to receive the award in person.

Ballet fans should also enjoy the festival closing performance of Don Quixote by Spain's Compania Nacional de Danza on March 30 at Emirates Palace. While Indie music fans should also welcome the arrival the eclectic American mini-pop orchestra Pink Martini on March 21.
With India the country of honour for the 2018 edition and the official festival theme called The Year of Zayed, expect a range of activities highlighting the cultural links between both countries in addition to a showcase of India's rich artistic tradition – the highlight being the lush dance production, The Merchants of Bollywood, which takes place on March 9. Tickets for all shows are available now from the festival website www.abudhabifestival.ae

With a range of further initiatives to be revealed- including art, film and theatre workshops, in addition to the discussion series Riwaq Al Fikr – soon, we expect plenty more announcements to be made from organisers Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation over the next coming months.

For now, here is the Abu Dhabi Festival major performance program:

Nicola Benedetti with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (pre-festival performance)

Nicola Benedetti

When: Monday, February 19

Where: Emirates Palace Auditorium

Renowned violinist Benedetti joins an ensemble of masters performing on instruments from the 18th and 19th centuries. The Orchestra of Enlightenment brings together a unique sound that challenges our expectations of what classical music should sound like.

The Merchants of Bollywood

The enormous production features more than 40 cast members and includes more than 1,000 colourful costumes and 2,000 pieces of glittering Indian jewellery, bringing all the glitz and glamour of Bollywood to the stage.

When: Thursday, March 8 to Friday March 9

Where: Emirates Palace Auditorium

This colourful theatrical spectacular celebrates the Bollywood film industry through music and dance. The show features vibrant costumes, choreography by Vaibhavi Merchant, and a score by award-winning duo Salim and Sulaiman. The Merchants have already performed to some two million people worldwide.

Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia

Roma, Auditorium Parco della Musica 23 05 2015
Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Antonio Pappano direttore
Bruckner Sinfonia n. 8
©Musacchio & Ianniello
NB la presente foto puo' essere utilizzata esclusivamente per l'avvenimento in oggetto o  per pubblicazioni riguardanti l'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia

Conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano with Beatrice Rana (piano) and Kyung Wha Chung (violin)

When: Sunday, March 11 to Monday, March 12

Where: Emirates Palace Auditorium

These two evenings will be led by one of Europe's most dynamic conductors. Founded in 1585, the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia is one of the oldest musical institutions in the world. For Abu Dhabi Festival audiences, the orchestra will be conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano, music director of the Royal Opera House, London, and joined by pianist Beatrice Rana and violinist Kyung Wha Chung. The first night will see prodigious 22-year old pianist performing Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 1, while night two features one of the greatest violinists of her generation taking on Brahms' Violin Concerto. The night will conclude with the power of Richard Strauss' Ein Heldenleben.

Waves of My Life by Ihab Darwish (UAE premiere)

Ihab Darwish

When: Wednesday, March 14

Where: Emirates Palace Auditorium

Emirati composer Ihab Darwish premieres Waves of My Life, which brings together a diverse array of musical talent – from Beethoven's Academy Orchestra to Sammy Clark. As well as this special live performance, Ihab Darwish's debut album will be available as part of the Composer's Platform.

The Opera in Concert: Deborah Voigt and Bechara Moufarrej

Deborah Voigt. Credit Heidi Gutman

When: Thursday, March 15

Where: Emirates Palace Auditorium

Deborah Voigt, revered as one of the world’s great sopranos, will be joined by Bechara Moufarrej, the Lenanese tenor, for an intimate operatic recital and an Arab world premiere.

Singing the Legends: A Night of Jazz with Omar Kamal 

A Night with Omar Kamal

When: Saturday, March 17

Where: Emirates Palace Auditorium

Palestinian singer and composer Omar Kamal has a timeless voice that also transcends borders. From the dreamy swoon of Sinatra to timeless Arab idols like Mohammed Abdel Wahab and Umm Kulthum, Kamal brings together eternal repertoires and emotional hits for one enchanting evening.

We The Living – Classical Indian Dance by Tanusree Shankar Dance Academy

We The Living – Dance Production by Tanusree Shankar Dance Academy

When: March 19

Where: Emirates Palace Auditorium

We the Living is inspired by Sufi poet Jelaluddin Rumi's Human Being, translated into English by Coleman Barks. Tanusree Shankar's presentation celebrates what may be called the life force through dance.

Pink Martini – Live in Abu Dhabi (UAE debut)

Pink Martini

When: Wednesday, March 21

Where: Emirates Palace Auditorium

Known affectionately as 'the little orchestra', Pink Martini are a rollicking around-the-world musical adventure. Founded in 1994 to revolutionise the ambience of political parties and fundraisers, the band cross classical, jazz and classic pop genres, performing music from all over the world. The dynamic band have shared the stage with more than 50 of the world's most prestigious symphony orchestras and have collaborated with artists from Rufus Wainwright and Chavela Vargas to Gus van Sant. Lead singer China Forbes will be joined by guest stars Ari Shapiro, host of NPR's All Things Considered, designer Ikram Goldman and Timothy Nishimoto.

Pianographique: Works for two pianos by Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Maurice Ravel with live visulisation


When: Saturday, March 24

Where: Emirates Palace Auditorium

This immersive multimedia spectacular, and Arab world premiere, envisions a distinctive work by Philip Glass, one of the most influential cultural pioneers of the late-20th century, brought dramatically to life through the radical approach of Ars Electronica. Philip Glass' compositions have redrawn the limits of contemporary classical music, his trademark style influencing everything from minimalism to pop music to become a part of our cultural landscape. Performed by Dennis Russell Davies and Maki Namekawa, the artists for whom Glass originally composed the work, Four Movements for Two Pianos is characterised by a light, freewheeling grace, refined and heightened through Ars Electronica's real-time visualisation.

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan: the Saroud Master

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan: the Saroud Master

When: March 25

Where: Emirates Palace Auditorium

Sarod 'Samrat', Amjad Ali Khan is one of the most distinguished maestros in the world of Indian classical music. He has travelled widely and performed at international music festivals in Pakistan, China, New Zealand, London, Rome, USA, Moscow, Germany and Japan. Ali Khan has won several awards, including the Padmashree and the Tansen Award.


The Bach Project

The Festival Recital Series, in partnership with Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel

When: Wednesday, March 28

Where: Red Theater at the Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi

An epic evening of the complete Bach concertos for two, three and four pianos. The Festival Recital Series continues its tradition of presenting the rising stars of tomorrow through a collaboration with Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel (QEMC). Young prodigies from the school will be part of the performance , alongside Julian Libeer, the Orchestre Royal de Chambre de Wallonie, led by pianist Frank Braley, and QEMC’s master-in-residence pianist Louis Lortie.


Don Quixote – Compañía Nacional de Danza (Arab world premiere)

When: Thursday March 29, Friday March 30

Where: Emirates Palace Auditorium

A vivid tale of imagination, friendship, love and loyalty, the famed ballet tells the story of Miguel de Cervantes’ romantic knight Don Quixote. In a vibrant interpretation by Spain’s Compañía Nacional de Danza, director José Carlos Martínez creates a fascinating musical take brimming with passion.