Manama: French violinist Renaud Capucon was pleased with the stunning hidden trove of Saudi archaeological treasures he saw during his visit to the country for a concert.
“It’s a wonderful area,” he said following his performance on Friday evening as part of the first Winter at Tantora festival and concert series in Al Ula.
The north-western walled town, with mud-brick and stone houses, is seen as a jewel in the crown of Saudi attractions in the emerging tourism sector.
“It’s quite incredible to feel this nature all around and to be there for the first time and to know that nobody was here before… and to be able to play here. I think it’s the first classical music concert here ever, and I feel very honoured and very inspired by what I see around us,” he said, as quoted by the Centre for International Communication (CIC).
Capucon is the latest internationally renowned musician to perform at the home of one of the Kingdom’s Unesco World Heritage sites.
Winter at Tantora, which opened on December 20 and runs until February 9, is hosted by the residents of Al Ula, the small town next to the ancient Nebatean site of Madain Saleh.
Numerous weekend cultural events and musical performances will be staged as part of the event.
Visitors will be able to take a tour of the many historical sites in and around Al Ula, which is one of the most fascinating vestiges of ancient Arabia in the Kingdom.
The oasis town some 380 kilometres north of Madinah was founded in the 6th century.
Today, it serves as the gateway to Madain Saleh, the Kingdom’s first Unesco World Heritage Site. More than 2,000 years old and carved from stone by the Nabataeans, the tribe that also built Petra in Jordan, Madain Saleh is expected to become one of Saudi Arabia’s premier tourist destination as the Kingdom forges a tourism and hospitality industry.
Madain Saleh was originally called Al Hijr, or Hegra, by its Nabataean builders who carved its tombs out of sandstone outcrops. The finely worked details display Assyrian, Egyptian, Phoenician and Hellenistic influences that, along with the ancient wells dotting the area, exemplify the architectural accomplishment and hydraulic expertise of Nabataean civilisation.
In July 2017, King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud ordered the establishment of the Royal Commission for Al Ula (RCU) to protect and reinvigorate the region that boasts outstanding natural and cultural significance.
According to RCU, Al Ula has the potential to be a beacon for the Arab world, a gateway that embraces local and international visitors to experience Saudi Arabia’s culture and the stories built on ancient civilisations.
Famous Saudi singer Mohammad Abdo performed on December 21.
Friday night’s concert by Capucon will be followed by the appearance of famous Arab composer, Omar Khairat of Egypt, on January 11.
Chinese pianist Lang Lang is due to perform on January 18 and popular Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli will make his debut in Saudi Arabia on February 1.
A hologram concert by the late Egyptian diva Um Kulthum on January 25 will be supported by a live orchestra.
Wrapping up the Winter at Tantora concert series on February 8 will be Grammy-nominated composer Yanni, the Greek pianist who had kicked off a series of concerts in the Kingdom in 2017.
Lebanese singer Majida Roumi performed at Winter at Tantora on December 28. She said it was an honour for her to perform at “this great global event” in Saudi Arabia, adding that the world was eagerly waiting “for the Kingdom to open its doors.”
Since 2017, several international stars, including French-Algerian Rai music star Cheb Khaled, US rapper Nelly and country music star Toby Keith, have performed in the Kingdom.
The list became longer in December 2018 after several acts performed at events surrounding the debut of Formula E in the Kingdom.
The historic city of Diriyah, another Unesco World Heritage Site and the first seat of power for Saudi kings, came alive last month when it hosted the biggest festival of car racing, live music and entertainment in the Kingdom — the 2018 ‘Saudia’ Diriyah E-Prix on December 13-15.
The three-day event, the first of its kind near the Saudi capital Riyadh, and backed by the General Sports Authority (GSA), included concerts by globally acclaimed musicians.
The list featured US pop rock band OneRepublic, American R’n’B star Jason Derulo, Latin pop musician Enrique Iglesias, hip hop group Black Eyed Peas, as well as famous Egyptian singer-songwriter Amr Diab and superstar DJ David Guetta.
More than 1,000 visitors from 80 nationalities came to the Kingdom for Formula E under a visa programme launched for visitors outside the scope of religious tourism through a portal named Sharek.
Such musical shows that were unimaginable less than two years ago have become part of life in Saudi Arabia, thanks to Vision 2030, that has charted a course for the country’s modernisation to make it a global destination for business and tourism.
Many of the music performances were sponsored by the General Entertainment Authority (GEA) that was set up to organise, develop and lead the entertainment sector and to provide entertainment options for Saudis.
Vision 2030, spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, mandates the building of a vibrant society. The Vision has identified Saudi youth as a key driver of change.
In other Winter at Tantora activities, hundreds of multi-coloured hot-air balloons will be released at the end of this month into the sky above Al Ula for over a week.
The first Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup horse race is set to take place on February 2.