The Abu Dhabi Festival reached another milestone on Thursday.
The annual arts event, now in its 14th edition, has expanded to include NYU Abu Dhabi’s Arts Centre as a venue for its main concert programme.
The Red Theatre’s earthy interior and pristine acoustics were apt accompaniments for the Abu Dhabi return of the virtuoso guitarist Tomatito.
With a two-hour programme of mostly instrumentals, Tomatito’s set list was well honed and provided enough diversity to keep the crowd engaged.
Joined by a six-piece backing band — including his son José del Tomate on the guitar, a percussionist, two vocalists and a dancer — the 58-year-old dazzled the sold out crowd with a performance showcasing the physical virtuosity and emotional sensitivity that’s part of flamenco.
Clad in black and clasping his weathered acoustic guitar, Tomatito began the programme with a solo rondena — one of the oldest forms of flamenco dating to the early 19th century and comes complete with it’s own guitar tuning.
After setting up a Arabic-Hispanic melodic core, Tomtatio diverged into different corners with fluid runs and at times slowing things down to a halt.
The band swung into action in the exuberant Alegrias; Jonatan Cortes provided backdrop on the wood-box cajan, while Tomatito and son fed of each other — the twin guitar attack resembling two birds circling each other.
The two vocalists were chosen well, with Kiki Cortinas and Morenito de Illora trading verses. The former more vocally acrobatic and dramatic, while Illora provided gravitas with a hefty blues tenor.
Bulerias was all about that flamenco rhythm; there was steely intent from Tomatito as the riffs skipped and leapt while both Cortinas and de Illora keeping the compass with a rapid fire “palmas” handicapping.
A visual treat arrived towards the end of the show; unless you studied the programme, you would have thought that El Torombo was another percussionist.
But in the lively ensemble piece, Mix Cantores, he stood from his chair — almost in a trance — and completely over shadowed the group with graceful movements that included vibrant and powerful heel stamping improvisations.
The Abu Dhabi Festival main concert programme now shifts to the Emirates Palace Auditorium.
The Chinese Centre for the Performing Arts will take the stage on March 24 and March 25.
Celebrated American trumpeter Wynton Marsalis will perform on March 27, followed by Portugal’s Mariza, one of Fado music’s leading lights, on March 29.
The festival concerts end on March 31 with Chinese-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma who will be backed by the eclectic and multicultural The Silk Road Ensemble.
For details and tickets go to www.abudhabifestival.ae