The 63rd edition of the Baalbeck International Festival is setting the stage for its annual summer spectacle, with a seven-show program ready for the Bacchus Temple steps.
Running July 5 to Aug. 3, a blend of local and international performers will deliver a lineup of jazz, Arabic classics and a little opera. The program was unveiled at a recent news conference at the newly inaugurated Culture Ministry’s Glass Room that included officials and performers.
Baalbek-Hermel Gov. Bashir Khodr took the opportunity to reassure visitors about the area’s safety.
“Today, Baalbeck-Hermel’s safety situation is exactly like any other area of Lebanon, just like Tripoli, Tyre and Sidon,” Khodr said.
“Just a few weeks ago I had Jan Kubis, the new United Nations special coordinator for Lebanon, announce in Baalbeck that the area was green-lighted under U.N. international security regulations.
Previously, he noted, U.N. staff needed security clearance to go to Baalbeck, and then had to travel by convoy. Now they can just go.
“We’re now in a great security situation,” Khodr reiterated, “which means there should be no reason for foreign tourists and visitors not to go to Baalbeck.”
The festival will open with Marcel Khalife’s “Ode to a Homeland,” which promises an evening of music and poetry.
Festival President Nayla de Freige noted this wasn’t the first time Baalbeck had hosted Khalife.
“In 2013, when we had to cancel the festival due to safety concerns, Marcel Khalife offered a concert for us in Beirut,” she said. “He brought together many Lebanese artists as a tribute to the City of the Sun.”
“From ‘Layla min Alf Layla’ to ‘Anthem of Bread and Roses,’” Khalife said, “the Lebanese National Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Lubnan Baalbaki, and the Notre Dame University Choir, conducted by Khalil Rahme, will take us on a musical journey that will go beyond geographical, religious and ideological boundaries.”
American jazz singer Melody Gardot will come to old Heliopolis July 7 for a show featuring tracks from her four albums, peppered with jazz standards.
Fans of the Arab world’s musical golden age will be treated to “An Evening with Abdel Halim [Hafez]” on July 20, an audiovisual concert orchestrated and conducted by Hisham Gabr. The show will feature the vocals of Mohammed Assaf and Noha Hafez, accompanied by the Romanian Orchestra and the Lebanese Orchestra for Oriental-Arabic Music. In all, 50 musicians will celebrate Abdel Halim’s songs and movies on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of his birth.
“We wanted to do something that hasn’t been done before,” Gabr said. “The performance will be a cine-concert, taking inspiration from a previous experiment I did, where I gave tribute to the film music of Abdel Halim’s films, directed by the great Youssef Chahine, where we used clips from the movies.”
The Romanian Radio Chamber Orchestra and the Antonine University Choir, under the baton of Toufic Maatouk, will stage Verdi’s “Requiem” July 26. Soprano Maria Agresta, mezzo-soprano Daniela Barcellona, tenor Giorgio Berrugi and bass John Relyea will be giving voice to Verdi’s masterpiece.
In the midst of her Souldier Tour, French singer Jain will be stopping by Baalbeck on Aug. 1, performing tracks from her new record and her award-winning debut “Zanaka,” which landed her Best Female Artist at the 2017 Victoires de la Musique and a Grammy nomination.
Jahida Wehbe will return to the temple’s steps with “Andalusian Scents,” a journey merging the poetry of Arabic muwashahat with flamenco rhythms. For her Aug. 2 show the soloist will be accompanied by oud virtuoso Omar Bashir and his musicians, with the participation of Spanish vocalist Melchior Campus and flamenco dancer Lea Llinares.
Bashir and his ensemble will return Aug. 3 for “Oud Around the World,” a performance of traditional music from Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey, interpretations of flamenco and Indian genres, Bashir family compositions, as well as solo pieces. Bashir will also debut tracks from his latest album “The Dancing Oud,” a fusion of oud and guitar.