Abu Dhabi Classics is still hitting the right notes 15 years on - Timeframe

The concert series continues to attract big names and develop homegrown talent

The Royal Ballet principal ballerina Natalia Osipova will perform as part of Abu Dhabi Classics. Reuters
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When the Berlin Philharmonic Quintet performs Franz Schubert’s Notturno at Manarat Al Saadiyat on Saturday and Sunday, the score and setting will be apt.

In fact, in many ways, the sense of gentle discovery and progress imbued in the Austrian composer's celebrated work encapsulates the mission of hosts Abu Dhabi Classics.

Beginning this weekend, the enduring classical music concert series is celebrating its 15th anniversary, inviting some of the world’s leading orchestras, soloists and conductors for concerts at the emirate’s cultural landmarks.

On October 12, London’s Royal Ballet principal ballerina Natalia Osipova graces the stage of Emirates Palace.

The hotel's auditorium is also the setting for a November 3 concert by the UK's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Canadian-American violinist Timothy Chooi as guest soloist.

Full-throttle pieces from the scores of Hollywood blockbusters, including The Avengers and Fast X, will be heard in a November 4 open-air concert under the baton of US film composer Brian Tyler and the aforementioned Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

This is only the opening suite of performances, says Ronald Perlwitz, head of the music programme at the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi.

More Abu Dhabi Classics shows will be announced for the emirate, including performances at Al Ain’s Al Jahili Fort.

In addition to the big names and sold-out concerts, Perlwitz judges the progress of the series by phone calls and emails.

“When I joined in 2014, Abu Dhabi Classics was already being noted in classical musical circles as one that is growing and with so much potential,” he tells The National.

“But we still need to do some explaining at times about who we are. Music agents, by their nature, don’t want to send their artists to an unfamiliar place.

“And classical music artists are very particular about where they are playing.

“Once they understand what we are all trying to achieve here, not only as Abu Dhabi Classics, but Abu Dhabi itself as a cultural destination, they get excited and then leave after the show wanting to come back.

“Now the conversations with agents are much smoother and straightforward.”

Indeed, Abu Dhabi Classics has staged repeat performances – albeit with new repertoires – over the years, including Spanish composer Jordi Savall and Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang.

The latter performed a set at Louvre Abu Dhabi last year.

More than the audience wow factor, these experiences are not lost on the performers themselves.

Michael Seal, associate conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, has vivid memories of leading the ensemble for two Abu Dhabi Classics shows in 2014 at the Abu Dhabi Corniche and Al Jahili Fort.

"We performed on a floating stage and there was a yacht race [Volvo Ocean Race] going on and it was a brilliant experience with a really great crowd. Then we all went on this long trip to Al Ain through the desert,” he tells The National.

“There is a lot of talk about the importance of such cultural exposure from an audience point of view, but in terms of us as musicians it is also invaluable.

“I will give you an example, during a rehearsal in Abu Dhabi we were kindly asked to stop for a few minutes because the call for prayer was happening.

“It made us appreciate the culture and gave us a deeper understanding of the UAE.”

French pianist David Fray, who made the first of three appearances at Abu Dhabi Classics in 2015, views his solo recitals and orchestral performances as a form of cultural exchange.

“It was my first exposure to the Middle East and that was an experience I still cherish to this day,” he says.

"Abu Dhabi Classics is a crossing of different cultures and there is a lot to benefit from as an audience and musicians.”

Abu Dhabi Classics is also a talent incubator for Emirati artists.

Baritone singer Ahmed Al Hosani performed one of his biggest concerts to date in 2021, singing the works of popular French singers Claude Francois and Jacques Revaux and Lebanon’s Melhem Barakat while accompanied by the UAE's NSO Chamber Orchestra.

Emirati ballerina Alia Al Neyadi took the stage in 2018, dancing alongside celebrity soloists Ivan Vasiliev and Maria Vinogradova from the Donetsk Opera and Ballet Theatre at Emirates Palace.

Al Neyadi now lends her talent behind the scenes alongside Perlwitz in leading DCT Abu Dhabi’s music programme.

"The whole idea of Abu Dhabi Classics is that it is a cultural dialogue between East and West," she tells The National.

"It does send a very strong message that it is important for Emirati artists to have this opportunity and join these great international artists.

“It's also vice versa in that these artists need to know we have great talent here in the UAE and through collaboration we can create opportunities for Emirati artists they wouldn’t have before.”

That message reverberated internationally with Abu Dhabi's 2021 designation as a Unesco City of Music, a network of international cities recognised by the UN agency as cultural centres.

Perlwitz says Abu Dhabi Classics, alongside many of the emirate's cultural institutions – such as Louvre Abu Dhabi, music institute Berklee Abu Dhabi and the NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Centre – played in unison to make that achievement happen.

That status is also a beginning rather than a final note

“Abu Dhabi being called a city of music is more a promise to the future than an award. We will all keep working hard and develop the music scene," Perlwitz says.

"And Abu Dhabi Classics will continue to play an important part in the piece."

Tickets for Abu Dhabi Classics shows are available on ticketmaster.ae

Updated: September 10, 2023, 7:13 AM