South Korean soprano Sumi Jo on ‘emotional’ Special Olympics concert

She will headline the Stand Up for Inclusion event as part of the Abu Dhabi Festival

Sumi Jo says she is inspired by the Special Olympics Korea Ensemble. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Festival
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The music connected to the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi is not limited to tonight's opening ceremony. In addition to the pop sounds of the event's newly announced anthem, Right Where I'm Supposed to Be, the Abu Dhabi Festival will celebrate the event with a classical touch.

A concert titled Stand Up for Inclusion will be held on Saturday at Emirates Palace, featuring the Special Olympics Korea Ensemble. Led by one of South Korea's finest operatic exports, Sumi Jo, the ensemble is made up of 41 musicians of determination. Entry to the concert is free after registering at the Abu Dhabi Festival website.

This is not the first time that Sumi Jo has aided her country's Olympic initiatives. She performed at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games as part of her honorary ambassador role.

"There are some things you don't think about too much, and you just do them," she says. "To help in any way when it comes to the Olympics is important because I believe in the cause. And to sing with this amazing orchestra in Abu Dhabi is also an important and inspiring thing. It will be an emotional evening for me."

Can you tell us something about the make-up of the Special Olympics Korea Ensemble?

They may have intellectual disabilities but they are all artists first and foremost and we are all looking forward to performing together. We have a pianist, trumpets and a viola, as well as electric guitars and drums. They will perform and then I will join them to do some arias. The aim is to create some really lovely moments with them. These musicians have their own sets of challenges, but they are great artists despite that. That's why I am inspired by them.

South Korea is the guest of honour of the Abu Dhabi Festival. We already saw great performances by the Korean National Ballet and the Korean Symphony Orchestra. How would you describe the arts scene back home?

A lot of the art comes from how South Korea is modernising, but at the same time, it still has many traditional values. I am talking about things like respect for elders and the importance of family. It is a quite interesting country because there a lot of young people who are hungry to learn new things. So on one hand they are aware of their traditions, and also they are very open to the world. It's traditional yet advanced. And the arts scene follows that same direction..

You are popular in the South Korean music scene and you have also performed big shows with K-pop artists. What were those experiences like? And can we expect a Sumi Jo K-pop release?

I don't think so! I enjoy that kind of music, but for me it is all about promoting classical music at home. It does sound a little bit awkward, but if I am on the same stage with a K-pop star then at least I will have the attention of the young people in the audience, and they will get inspired to listen to classical music after seeing me. 

Stand Up For Inclusion featuring Sumi Jo and the Special Olympics Korea Ensemble is on March 16 at Emirates Palace at 8pm. Tickets are free after registering at