Tickling the ivories at the Festival’s last show

Michel Fadel will perform his take on classics from the Arab world as part of Abu Dhabi Festival.

The Lebanese pianist Michel Fadel will be rounding off this year's Abu Dhabi Festival. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Festival
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After nearly a month of performances featuring the jazz legend Herbie Hancock, the soprano Renée Fleming, the European ­Union Youth Orchestra and the American Ballet Theatre, the Abu Dhabi Festival’s concerts conclude on Monday with a look back at some of the Arab world’s most influential ­performers.

As part of Bayt Al Farabi, the festival’s Arabic concert series, the Lebanese classical pianist Michel Fadel will lead his group as he plays hits spanning 50 years, with his take on classics by the likes of the Egyptian legend Abdel Halim Hafiz to Lebanese giants such as the late Wadih Al-Safi.

“No one should be checking their watches during the performance,” he says. “I am aiming for a concert that will connect with everyone, no matter where they are from. I am all about getting the crowd involved and the show should be exciting and varied. I hope people will be swept away.”

All in the family

Fadel was born into a family of musicians who wasted no time in putting the youngster in front of a keyboard. When he was 8, Fadel won the first prize in a musical competition in Beirut, before going on to earn a master’s degree at the Lebanese Higher National Conservatory. Fadel admits the road to being a virtuoso came with a few childhood sacrifices.

“My father was tough on me and wanted me to develop my talents,” he recalls. “There were a few times where I wanted to play football and ski with friends and he wouldn’t let me because he was scared I would injure myself and particularly my hands. Eventually he would let me do them only if I practice my piano for a few hours first.”

The hard work paid off – Fadel won the Grand Champion Instrumentalist of the Year in the World Championship of Performing Arts in Hollywood in 2000. His pedigree caught the attention of the Lebanese chanteuses Fairouz, Julia Boutros and Majida El Roumi, who all enlisted him as their arranger and performance pianist.

Concert programme

The performance, expected to be just more than 90 minutes, will consist of tributes and melodies to Arab legends. The opening section is dedicated to the late Lebanese folk singer Wadih Al-Safi with a selection of his most stirring material including Jayin Ya Arz El Jabal, Melancolia and Khatarna Ala Balak.

This will be followed by a medley of Fairouz hits including Emmi Namet A Bakkir and Nassan Alayna Al Hawa. Further tributes will be extended to the Algerian-Lebanese singer Warda before Fadel looks towards Egypt with pieces from the crooners Mohammed Abdel Wahab and Abdel Halim Hafez.

Don’t expect faithful covers, Fadel warns – he aims to channel the spirit of the classics through a modern approach.

“As a musician constantly longing for renewal and change, two main factors had a considerable influence on my personality: my major in western music and my childhood, because I was raised in a household full of great passion for music,” he says. “The more you go deep into Arabic music, the more you realise that you can explore its depths and devise a personalised version of your creation without altering the original memory or basic structure.”

Look out for …

The concert’s special guest Pedro Eustache. The Venezuelan flautist and multi-instrumentalist’s creative touch has been heard on stage and at the movies. He has already amassed an impressive list of soundtracks including 2005’s Munich and the blockbuster King Kong in addition to the 2007 Hollywood-Bollywood production Marigold, starring Salman Khan.

• Michel Fadel performs on Monday at Emirates Palace Auditorium. Tickets begin at Dh125, from tickets.virginmegastore.me