The crossover classical pianist and pop music virtuoso will be performing tonight as part of the Abu Dhabi Classics festival. Having worked with big names like The Weeknd, Miley Cyrus and Celine Dion we talk to Moccio about future collaborations, inspiration and the enduring power of classical music.

Tell us about what you’ll be performing tonight at Emirates Palace?

This show is about the pop side of me. The concert will have different artists and performers who will be performing my hit songs. At the same time I will get the chance to explain the story and inspiration behind the music, because there is always a story behind the music.

Do you have a different approach when creating music for pop or classical pieces?

It’s hard to divide the two because both exist in my mind and in my heart. When I sit down to write solo, instrumental music there are different boundaries and parameters that I use. For example when I write for somebody like Celine Dion or Miley Cyrus, immediately my mind goes a song on radio can’t last more than four minutes. When I write solos or instrumental music I don’t give myself those limits. In a lot of ways I like both challenges, I don’t know if I like one more than the other, they both exist for me because often times when I’m writing pop music I want to do instrumental music and when I’m doing instrumental music I want to get back into pop music.

You’ve worked with big stars like Miley Cyrus, Celine Dion and The Weeknd. Have you worked with any artists that you really connected with musically?

I mean the Weeknd and I connected on a very deep level. He is committed to excellence and to giving his audience something different in a time where pop music is driven by computers. There were a lot of sketches and that was a refreshing approach for me, often when I compose classical music you are constantly reevaluating the piece of art you are working on at the time and so for example when I get in the studio with Abel certain songs, we had 5, 6, 7 different versions of the song until we got it where we wanted to. He’s one that stands out as of late.

Who would you like to collaborate or write for next?

Adel and I, in theory, are a match made in heaven. I’m sure it will happen at some point in our lifetime. Justin Timberlake is another one. I had the honour of meeting John Williams over the last year and it’s not like John necessarily sits down and collaborates with people, however if I’m ever so lucky to have a chance to learn more from John. Madonna has always been fascinating to me as well from a pop culture perspective. She’s always trying to push boundaries when she does. I’m always drawn to artists who take risks.

You’ve mentioned before you’re trying to inject “classical music into pop.” With all of your success, do you think there’s a real appreciation for classical music today, in the pop market?

I don’t have a clear answer to that. I ask myself that question almost daily as I raise two children. I try to expose them to classical music everyday. Everyday I walk into the studio, I go home and listen to classical music, I fall asleep to classical music I cleanse my ears to classical music. And yet, I get excited about pop music.

I have to believe classical music will forever be around – it will just take on a different interpretation as we move forward, beyond our lifetime. The great repertoire that Brahms, Bethoveen, Bach and Chopin clearly has stood the test of time. I find it unique that I’m drawn to classical music still. I could listen to a symphonic work of any of the great composuers and at the same time I will turn around and listen to The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar, any of the great rappers.

Following up on that, is their anything surprising on your iPod fans wouldn’t associate you with?

Kendrick Lamar. I think they’d be surprised to know I have high reverence for great hip hop artists. Oftentimes people just hear a beat or explicit language and they think it isn’t great music. But if the storyteller, like Kendrick, Mos Def, these are hardcore rappers – if you listen to what they are saying they are saying something very valid, very relevant that they are experiencing. I think people would be surprised that I listen to them in the same breath as I listen to Debussy and Ravel. I was just listening to Debussy the other night and he was so avant-garde, so jazz and so ahead of his time. If he only knew we are listening to him today a 150 years later.

What’s next for you? Upcoming projects?

I’m working on a plethora of movies, which I am excited about including a high-profile animated film. There’s a girl called Maty Noyes who is just starting, I’m very excited about the music that she and I have created. We’ve had the opportunity to blend pop music with a 52-piece orchestra. It’s just creating some new and different that I can’t even put my finger on. Lastly, 2017 will be the year that I go back to recording one of my own albums. This time it will be producer driven, with a combination of orchestral and pop elements and I’ll be featuring some very high profile pop artists. So I think you know I have my hands full, I have my hands in a lot of different pots, but everything I’m working on right now I’m very passionate about.

December 14
Emirates Palace, West Corniche Road, Abu Dhabi, Dhs30 to Dhs750, 8pm. Tel: (800) 555. Taxi: Emirates Palace.