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His Excellency Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahyan inaugurates the Abu Dhabi Festival 2016 visual arts exhibition before joining an audience for an evening of sublime French arias at ‘Natalie Dessay and Laurent Naouri In Recital’

His Excellency Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahyan Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development and H.E. Hoda Al Khamis-Kanoo, Founder of the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation and the Abu Dhabi Festival 11th Apr 2016

Performance by celebrated French soprano Natalie Dessay and renowned French baritone Laurent Naouri opens Abu Dhabi Festival’s headline programme

His Excellency Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, officially inaugurated the 13th edition of the Abu Dhabi Festival last night during the opening ceremony at Emirates Palace. Bringing together some of the UAE’s leading contemporary artists for the unveiling of ‘Portrait of a Nation’, the Festival’s headline art exhibition, the event was followed by a sublime recital of quintessentially French songs performed by treasured French soprano Natalie Dessay and renowned baritone Laurent Naouri.  This year’s Festival sees France celebrated as the ‘Country of Honour’.

Presenting a record-breaking twenty newly commissioned artworks by twenty Emirati artists, ‘Portrait of a Nation’ commemorates the 20th anniversary of Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation (ADMAF), the organisers of the Abu Dhabi Festival. Running at The Gallery, Emirates Palace until 10 May 2016, the exhibition features renowned Emirati artists including Sarah Al Agroobi, Mohammed Al Astad and Zeinab Al Hashemi, in addition to thirty loaned artworks by other eminent local artists. With large-scale indoor and outdoor sculptures, paintings, drawings, photographs, collages, videos and installations, the exhibition takes viewers on a visual journey exploring different aspects of nationhood and reflecting these 50 diverse artists’ relationships to the UAE.

During the inauguration The Gulf Capital-ADMAF Creativity Award was bestowed upon Jumaanah Elhashemi, a graphic design student from Zayed University, Dubai. Displayed alongside the commissioned artworks in ‘Portrait of a Nation’, the Festival honoured Ms Elhashemi for her innovative, local, typographic design project ‘Degree Typeface’ which blends bold aesthetics and simplicity in a way that mirrors the innovation of the contemporary Arab art and design movement.

Commenting on the inauguration, H.E. Hoda Al Khamis-Kanoo, Founder of Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation and the Abu Dhabi Festival said: “This year is a very special year for me, as we celebrate 20 years since the inception of the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation. It was established over two decades ago with the firm belief that culture drives identity. It drives dialogue. And most importantly, it drives an appreciation of mankind’s shared humanity.  For over two decades, the Foundation has harnessed culture to bring the people of the UAE together for initiatives such as the Abu Dhabi Festival, while shining a spotlight internationally on the depth of creativity the UAE has to offer. To me, tonight’s inauguration demonstrates just exactly what the Foundation is about. From internationally renowned musicians making their Arab world debut this evening, to a constellation of incredibly talented UAE-bred artists exhibited in ‘Portrait of a Nation’, I feel incredibly proud of what we have achieved. The first 20 years of ADMAF was only the beginning.”   

Opening the Festival’s headline programme of live performances, Abu Dhabi Festival welcomed French soprano Natalie Dessay, one of the most celebrated and distinguished singers of her generation, alongside renowned French baritone Laurent Naouri. Making their Arab world debut on the Emirates Palace Auditorium stage, the two distinguished singers held the audience spellbound with an emotionally expressive evening of quintessentially French songs. Accompanied by accomplished pianist Maciej Pikulski, the evening featured music by some of the greatest French composers of all time, including Gabriel Fauré, Henri Duparc, Francis Poulenc, Léo Delibes and Charles-Marie Widor.

Commenting on France as the Festival’s Country of Honour, The Ambassador of France H.E. Michel Miraillet said: “Abu Dhabi Festival has become a key element of the emirate’s cultural landscape. Year after year, bringing the best artists to Abu Dhabi, commissioning original projects, fostering cultural expression, this “symphony of cultures” makes quite a valuable contribution to the community.”

Celebrating innovative Arab music practitioners, the inauguration also saw the official opening of The Abu Dhabi Festival Composers Platform in collaboration with The Foundation for Arab Music Archiving and Research (AMAR). Open at The Listening Post in the Emirates Palace Auditorium Foyer until April 26, the Festival presents music by Mohammed Al Qasabgi following the launch of a CD box set in March commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Egyptian musician and performer.

Running until 30 April 2016, Abu Dhabi Festival is set to bring a lineup of globally renowned names as part of the headline celebration, including Lang Lang in Recital (14 April), Orchestre de Paris (15 and 17 April), the Festival’s much anticipated stage production The Little Prince (April 21–22), and Carlos Acosta and Friends (25–26 April). The 2016 Festival will also see the return of the much acclaimed Festival Recital Series featuring the Joey Alexander Trio (27 April) and the Alfredo Rodríguez Trio (28 April) at New York University Abu Dhabi Arts Center.

The Abu Dhabi Festival is presented and organised by Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation. ADMAF is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that seeks to nurture the arts, education, culture and creativity for the benefit of society and advancement of Abu Dhabi’s cultural vision.  For further information on Abu Dhabi Festival 2016 tickets, schedules, venues and performances please visit the Festival website Abu Dhabi Festival can also be followed on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat (ADFestival). View an interactive version of ADMAF’s special 20th anniversary publication and film