Gustavo Dudamel conducts

Gustavo Dudamel conducts combined forces of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra in 2012 at Disney Hall. Dudamel made his United Arab Emirates debut this week with the Bolivar orchestra. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

Gustavo Dudamel got to conquer another country this week, making his debut in the United Arab Emirates in what was billed as a prelude to the annual Abu Dhabi Festival.

Dudamel led the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela Monday at the Emirates Palace Auditorium, performing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, excerpts from Tchaikovsky's “The Tempest” and “Romeo and Juliet,” and ending with what the festival's description of the occasion called "a crowd-pleasing signature encore bursting with Latin-American rhythm.”

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The UAE’s minister of culture conferred a special Abu Dhabi Festival Award on Dudamel after the concert; his mentor, Jose Antonio Abreu also received an award as founder of El Sistema, Venezuela’s innovative and influential musical training program for children.

The main program of the 11th Abu Dhabi Festival runs March 14-31. With the United States designated as this year’s “country of honor,” the focus is on American artists, including Herbie Hancock, Renee Fleming and American Ballet Theatre performing “Coppelia.” Bay Area sound artist Bill Fontana is creating a special installation, “Acoustic Visions and Desert Soundings,” for the festival. Also appearing are the Dresden Philharmonic and Vladimir Ashkenazy.

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