Following the unexpected and devastating demise on 25th February 2018 of Prof. Mro Joseph Vella, the Victoria International Arts Festival‘s Artistic Director, this year’s 21st edition will be dedicated to the wonderful legacy that Mro Vella left to those who were privileged to know him, work with him, and enjoy his glorious music. In fact, the organisers are honouring Mro’s wishes and presenting this year’s programme as he devised and planned it with his team. Last year’s programme was a landmark one, celebrating the 20th uninterrupted edition of what has become Malta’s longest-running Festival of its kind. This year we continued building on the same platform, and the range and breadth of the concerts offered attest to the high standard, innovation, and vision that VIAF stands for.
The programme, with details of performers, etc, can be accessed on our website, which is continuously being updated as more information trickles in. In Mro Vella’s words, which he gave to the media last year on the launch of the 20th edition:
“Twenty years ago, together with the invaluable help of my team of collaborators, we started a mini-revolution in Gozo, which can be said to have had ripple effects not only on our small island but also in Malta. The Victoria International Arts Festival is now not only solidly established on the local scene as a quality Festival of, basically, chamber music, but its fame has overflowed its national boundaries to reach and generate interest in a wide international circle. We are now at a stage where we have to select prospective local and foreign participants who write to us asking to perform. This, of course, puts us in a unique position where we can sift and select material to finally come up with a truly professional line-up that has become synonymous with VIAF. Top-notch internationally-established artists, together with the best from the local scene, are the order of the day in this five-week long extravaganza of daily concerts, which, in line with a policy we initiated nineteen years ago, are also offered to the general public free of charge.
The scope, breadth, range, and standards of the concerts we are proposing are, naturally, made possible through the infrastructure that my hard-working and creative committee members have managed to put together over the years. In fact, the VIAF can now boast to have at its disposal a truly professional grand piano, a first-class harpsichord, a beautiful Baroque organ and, as from this year, a renovated Square Piano, probably the only one functioning in Malta. These resources are, of course, a sine qua non when one is thinking of asking over world-class instrumentalists who would obviously tend to shy away if they know they do not have the ‘right’ instrument to play on.”
As in previous editions, the opening and closing concerts this year will be performed by the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Mro Philip Walsh, a conductor who needs no introduction in music circles on the island and beyond. The opening concert will see the participation of well-known soprano Miriam Cauchi, who will be interpreting Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs, while the Laudate Pueri Choir of St George’s Basilica will sing Joseph Vella’s setting of ‘Domine Jesu Christe’. Both of these works were chosen for performance by Mro Vella prior to his untimely demise. The rest of the programme will include Humperdinck’s Overture to Hänsel und Gretel, and Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn (St Anthony Chorale). The closing concert will see the much-acclaimed Maltese violinist, Carmine Lauri, who will perform Glazunov’s Violin Concerto. Other works will be Vella’s symphonic poem Rebbieha, and Mozart’s Symphony no. 41 ‘Jupiter’.
Comprehensively, again as in previous years, this year’s edition will welcome an impressive 600 musicians hailing from 20 countries, coming over to perform. Some are coming from as far as Australia, the U.S.A., South Korea, Taiwan, Israel – that is indeed how far and wide VIAF has made its presence felt. Household star names who have performed in VIAF are the Martinů Quartet, pianists Young-Choon Park and Gabriele Vianello, Tchaikovsky Competition Winner Cellist Daniel Veis, harpsichordist Bridget Cunningham, the choirs of Rochester, and Ely Cathedrals, members from the legendary choir of the Cappella Pontificia Sistina, harpist Fabrice Pierre, award-winners Baroque ensemble Le Jardin Musical, and so many more.
Building on our concept of basically a Festival of Chamber Music, the committee has this year gone all out to spotlight not just duos. In line this year, we have more string quartets, wind quintets, piano sextets, and even bigger and more diverse formations. Famous ensembles we are introducing this year are the string trio Cordes Marines, Minguet Quartet, and Mozarteum Piano Quartet, just to mention a handful of chamber groups. Other high-profile ensembles include the Trio Vinea and the Khorasan Quartet, apart from cellists Daniel Veis, and Luc Tooten, pianists Gabriele Vianello, Olaf Andreas Strand, and Giovanni Bertolazzi, violinist Andrea Gajic, whom patrons remember from her stunning performances of the Brahms and the Sibelius Violin Concertos with MPO. Maltese participation is once again strong, with piano duo Natascha Chircop and Marco Rivoltini, harpist Caroline Calleja, violinist Maria Conrad, sopranos Francesca Aquilina and Rosabelle Bianchi, composer Mauro Farrugia, and others.
The Baroque series will this year see performances ranging from Venetian, Roman, French, German, and Spanish music being performed on period instruments on six consecutive days starting on Sunday 10th June. Performers for this series will be coming from Italy, France, England, Belgium, Sicily, and Germany.
Continuing on the practice started by Joseph Vella, Victoria International Arts Festival continues to commission new works as well as promoting canonical ones which have either never been performed on the island or else are rare luxuries. Over the years, VIAF premiered no fewer than 25 new works and introduced the public to Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, and more.
The basis of VIAF’s ethos is educational and cultural, and it also focuses on inclusivity. Our Festival has been the first one the islands to offer a wide range of master classes given by foreign and local experts in the field. This is of extreme benefit to our students who, given the insularity of Gozo, do not have the exposure and opportunity that students in bigger countries would naturally have. Last year we launched an extremely successful project, namely, a workshop with immigrants, focusing on the power of art to transcend boundaries of race, colour, and religion. This will once again be happening this year, together with a two-day workshop for children with special needs.
Art exhibitions mounted at Il-Hagar – Heart of Gozo and other venues in Victoria are also in the pipeline. This year we are very proud to also have a photography exhibition by the experienced Daniel Cilia. A book in his honour will also be launched in collaboration with the Fondazzjoni Belt Victoria in the GEMS SERIES. The first in this series was dedicated to Joseph Vella.
All this musical and artistic bonanza would hardly be possible without the close collaboration of a hard-working committee – Fr George Frendo as the new Artistic Director, Maria Frendo as Secretary, and Dennis Xuereb as financial adviser and controller, together with a host of young and energetic helpers in the logistics department. Having been both privileged and honoured to work under the guidance of Joseph Vella, an inspired and inspiring polymath, the committee looks forward to carrying on Joseph Vella’s work in the field of music and the arts in general, to further dream big, and to consolidate the work carried out in the past twenty-one years of VIAF’s existence.
The organisers would like to take this opportunity to thank Arts Council Malta and the Ministry for Gozo, who, through the Gozo Cultural Support Programme has helped our project grow and flourish. Thanks also go to all the other sponsors, most notably BOV and APS Banks, for making VIAF possible.
Prof Joseph Vella needs no introduction. His name and reputation have become institutionalised in Malta and a by-word for musical excellence and organisational acumen. Equally versatile as a composer, conductor, researcher, editor, University lecturer, Joseph Vella has established standards that would be more than a hard act to follow. A man of vision, with him at the helm success is a guarantee. Together with his committee, comprising Rev George Joseph Frendo (Assistant Artistic Director/Co-ordinator), Maria Frendo (Secretary), Dennis Xuereb (Treasurer/Accountant), David Camilleri, George Camilleri and James Borg (Logistics Officers) and a host of young people who year in year out help in no uncertain way towards making the event a memorable one, Prof Vella is pivotal in engaging the crème de la crème of musical talent world-wide. Such is his renown as a composer and conductor of excellence, with his works being performed all over the world and with new works of his being commissioned by top musicians, experts in their field, that the artistes he comes into contact with are always very eager to acknowledge his worth and make themselves available for our Festival. The network is increasingly widening and every year the committee is pleasurably afflicted with a headache – one with a difference for which no medical remedy is necessary. Sifting through the manifold, various and varied requests, it is always a question of being spoilt for choice and, inevitably, it is always with more than a gentle dose of regret that certain proposed concerts have to be postponed to a later edition.
For five weeks every year in June/July, Victoria joins the festival cities of the world, with artistes and ensembles from all over the world combining to leave their mark on the soul of the island. That is precisely what the Festival in the heart of Victoria, blending drive, professional ethos and the typical Gozo penchant for laid-back charm, has come to signify for an ever-widening network of patrons and admirers hailing from top music centres all over the world down to the cultural-minded visitor and local music lover. Culture makes places distinctive, engendering pride in the local community. It also makes a practical contribution in terms of sustainability, providing employment, encouraging learning and inspiring people to adopt creative and active lifestyles.
Victoria International Arts Festival was the brain child of Mro Joseph Vella together with the resident choir at St George’s Basilica. The choir was formally set up by, Rev Dr Joseph Farrugia, Archpriest at the Basilica (1998 – 2007). Nevertheless, it knows its roots to a much earlier and very deeply established tradition of sacred music performed at the principal parish church of Gozo. The main objective of the choir has been the cultivation and promotion of sacred music within the liturgical context, with particular emphasis on sacred polyphony. In this regard, the choir has established for itself a sound reputation as leading interpreter of polyphonic music of both the classic and the contemporary idioms. The choir is also the first Maltese choir to perform as an all-female choir (SSAA). In a wider context, the choir’s objective is the dissemination of high culture, which is admirably achieved through the Victoria International Arts Festival apart from its strong participation and collaboration in opera productions staged at the Teatru Astra every October. The director of the Choir is Rev George Joseph Frendo, who is also the Assistant Director of the Victoria International Arts Festival.