BEIRUT: The parade of news conferences announcing what’s in store for the summer’s entertainment continued in Zouk Mikael Friday.
In its 2014 season, the Zouk Mikael International Festival (July 31-Aug. 7) has three major acts in its lineup. The program hopes to appeal to a diverse audience, with opera, indie rock and classically inflected Arabic music on offer.
Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel and U.S. soprano Monica Yunus will open the festivities, with an evening of arias and duets from the classical music repertoire. The vocalists will be accompanied by the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Gareth Jones.
Yunus is becoming a Beirut habitué. She debuted at Festival Al-Bustan in 2008, performing a selection of classical and romantic arias with the Lebanese National Symphony Orchestra. She performed a program of duo and solo works with Spanish-Catalan tenor José Carreras at ZMIF 2012, then returned the following year for a rather different collaboration with Louisiana jazz man Jonathan Batiste.
The vocalist appears to be a habitual collaborator, in fact. In 2006, she and fellow soprano Camille Zamora co-founded Sing for Hope, an organization whose year-round program of outreach activities seeks to “connect artists to communities in need and make art accessible to all.”
Since his 1991 debut with the English National Opera, Terfel has been one of the bright stars of the opera circuit. He is known for his roles of Mozart’s “Figaro” and “Don Giovanni,” as well as for his interpretations of Wagner’s characters. Terfel has also generated some lauded collaborative work, not least with Italian coloratura mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli. His ZMIF concert will be his Lebanon debut.
Light FM, the Lebanese radio station, was created a quarter of a century ago, and it is to mark this anniversary that ZMIF will host a concert featuring Lebanese pop bands. Several DJs will augment the live acts and keep the party going for as long as possible.
The lineup includes a set from Mashrou’ Leila. Now an all-male act, this cadre of AUB alumni has seen a phenomenal rise, from a gaggle of spotty unknowns bull-horning through a set at the Fete de la Musique to what is easily the best-known Lebanese indie act on the ground right now, with a full slate of regular gigs overseas.
Another well-regarded indie band on the ZMIF roster is The Wanton Bishops. The band’s folk-inflected style is quite unlike that of Mashrou’ Leila, but it has found a wealth of fans both in Lebanon and abroad.
Pascal Sarkis, Malek Rizkallah, Hassib Dergham and Wassim Bou Malham together form Who Killed Bruce Lee. Band members say they’ve written many new compositions in the two years since the release of their debut EP and hint that the ZMIF performance may give the public the opportunity to discover (or rediscover) their tunes.
Pindoll, who opened for the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ concert a few years back and will also play the showcase, describe their music as a jazz-rock fusion. They are known for their outstanding cover songs but also for their originals melodies.
ZMIF will stage another intriguing collaboration with “Naseej,” which gathers pianist Mike Massy, pianist Sary and cellist Ayad Khalife – yes, the duo are related to Marcel, Rami and Bashar Khalife. Staged by theater director Nagy Souraty, the concert alludes to an East-West theme that is keyed in to Sufi tradition.
Massy is a known figure on the Beirut stage, with his album “Ya Zaman” prompting several concert bookings in Lebanon and the U.S. Inspired by Arabic poetry, the three composers met in Paris and decided to combine their talents to bring a new perspective to traditional Middle Eastern music.
Cello, piano and vocals will immerse the amphitheater audience in an ecstatic ambiance through the artists’ touches of jazz, Middle Eastern rhythms and medieval music.
This year’s ZMIF may be shorter than previous years. But the organizers have shown that despite the security difficulties, the quality of the performers to be featured is not lacking. This summer, young and old will find something to suit them in the lineup.
The Zouk Mikael International Festival will take place at the amphitheater from July 31 until Aug. 7. For more information, please visit www.zoukmikaelfestival.org