The Louvre Abu Dhabi might not be open yet, but the historic museum is already making a seismic contribution to the emirate’s cultural scene.
Wednesday, March 16, will see the world premiere of two new orchestral pieces, specially commissioned to mark the continuing relationship between the UAE and France, home of the world’s most-visited museum.
The concert, which will take place overlooking the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s already iconic dome, symbolically features the debut of works by leading Emirati composer Faisal Al Saari and French musician Bruno Mantovani.
Germany’s renowned, 120-piece Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester (youth orchestra) will be tasked with bringing these pieces vividly to life, under conductor Christoph Eschenbach.
A special purpose-built stage has been set up on the edge of the Louvre construction site. Raised seating for up to 1,000 guests has been erected in the Manarat Al Saadiyat car park, with the dome sitting behind the stage from this vantage.
Meanwhile, a big screen will broadcast images of the iconic building. To the audience's right sits the sea – and, fittingly, the concert will close with Debussy's masterpiece, La Mer.
While the weather forecast was fine at the time of press, organisers have confirmed there is a “plan B” in place, were the recent spate of bad weather to make an unwelcome return.
Offered what might be the most high-profile orchestral commission ever granted to an Emirati, Al Saari chose to dedicate his piece to the father of the nation, Sheikh Zayed.
He called it Zayed's Dream because he believes seeing the Louvre Abu Dhabi sprout from the sands of Saadiyat would have been a dream come true for the founder of the United Arab Emirates.
“Sheikh Zayed spent his life making us happy, and making this country one of the best in the world – this was his dream,” says the 42-year-old composer.
"Anything that makes us successful and unique would be a dream for Zayed – that's why I called it Zayed's Dream."
A celebrated oud player, Al Saari will appear on stage to perform his composition, which pits him as a soloist in dialogue with the orchestra.
The work incorporates traditional UAE melodies and scales, and will also be performed alongside a 10-piece Emirati percussion section to emphasise the region’s unique rhythms.
While the orchestra is limited to a 12-note western musical palette, Al Saari’s own parts will make use of the quarter tones which characterise Arabic music.
Inspired by the concerto form – but not strictly tied to its formal conventions – the 18-minute work is split into three movements which each represent a different stage in the UAE’s history.
The first, says Al Saari, is inspired by the early days of the union, in the 1970s and 1980s.
“In the beginning, it was a big challenge, and many people said the union would not last, it was not easy for Sheikh Zayed and all the rulers. I put my feelings of this into the music,” says Al Saari, who uses sudden switches of harmonic key to create a sense of change and unease, as well as quoting from classic Emirati songs to create a sense of nostalgia.
The second movement takes on the sombre mood of a mass to reflect Zayed’s death.
“He’s our father and founder, we love him so much,” says Al Saari.
“His death was a disaster for us; we cannot forget it. When we remember that day, we get sad, and this piece represents that.”
The third movement addresses the contemporary climate, and looks to the future of the nation. “You will feel the challenges we face, as well as our achievements and our successes,” adds the composer.
The performance will be filmed live, and is likely to be made available as a commemorative package to visitors of the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
It is a fitting showcase for Zayed's Dream, which represents a significant achievement in integrating Emirati musical traditions with western classical music. "It's the first time an Emirati has reached this level, the first time our heritage is going to be played by a full orchestra," says Al Saari, who takes the responsibility firmly in his stride.
“I feel that I am lucky, but I am ready for it,” he adds. “But are the people ready for this kind of challenge? This is the question.”
• Universal Expressions: Inspired by Louvre takes place Wednesday, March 16, at 8pm at Manarat Al Saadiyat. Tickets cost from Dh80 (Dh30 for students) at www.ticketmaster.ae