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Baalbeck Festival promises two months of magical shows
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BEIRUT: The Baalbeck International Festival will open with a concert by Grammy Award-winning U.S. soprano Renee Fleming, just one of the 2013 edition’s lineup of acclaimed Lebanese and international artists announced at a news conference at The Phoenicia Hotel Thursday.

Despite the tense political situation in the Bekaa Valley, festival spokesmen insisted upon the importance of maintaining the artistic and musical events that formed the cultural heritage of the country.

BIF will stage its program of concerts between June 30 and Aug. 30.

Fleming, whose curtain-raiser will take place at the Bacchus Temple, has participated in many acclaimed events, including the televised 2009 concert “We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial.” For her Baalbeck show, the soprano will be accompanied by Polish pianist and composer Maciej Pikulski, a member of the elite Paris Superior Conservatory of Music.

Between Aug. 9 and 10, BIF acquires a distinctively Lebanese flavor with Joe Moukarzel’s musical extravaganza “Assi ... El Helm.” An interpretation of some of Assi Hellani’s best-loved tunes – such as “Hait Kalbi,” “Sa’alouni” and “Ma Li Sabir” – along with a new composition written specifically for the festival, the show will see the renowned Lebanese vocalist accompanied by a chorus, orchestra and dancers.

The storm of musical performances continues on Aug. 17 with a concert by U.K. singer-songwriter Marianne Faithfull. Over the course of her decadeslong career, Faithfull has collaborated with such acclaimed artists as David Bowie, Nick Cave and Serge Gainsbourg. Presumably this concert will sample some of the dozens of tunes she’s composed since the 1960s.

For the jazz aficionados, the Bacchus Temple will resonate with the melodic rhythms of pianist, vocalist and songwriter Eliane Elias on Aug. 23, who promises to interpret classic jazz standards with a Brazilian twist.

Renowned oud virtuoso and composer Marcel Khalife will perform a pair of shows on Aug. 24-25. Among the top musical figures in the country, Khalife is famed for having freed the oud from the instrument’s strict technique, and introducing its wide repertoire to an even wider audience.

The BIF closes with “PUZ/ZLE,” a contemporary dance show choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. The piece debuted at the Avignon Festival 2012 and wrestles with themes of identity and religion via the symbol of the stone – a metaphor for modern culture.

What better place than the stones of the Bacchus Temple to tackle such a subject? Cherkaoui will be accompanied by Japanese musician Kazunari Abe and Corsican group “A Filetta.”

This year’s BIF will be an opportunity for the Lebanese to escape the daily mayhem of this tense time. BIF organizers want to demonstrate that the present turmoil shouldn’t prevent audiences from appreciating the best that international culture has to offer.

Baalbeck International Festival runs June 30-Aug. 30. For more information, please visit

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 10, 2013, on page 16.
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