About Us

Prof Mro Joseph Vella, Artistic Director of the Victoria International Arts Festival, has this to say about this year’s 20th edition of the Victoria International Arts Festival:

“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.

This year’s Festival is a special one, in that we are now celebrating our 20th edition.  We are extremely proud of this achievement and for the occasion I, as Artistic Director, together with my worthy team, have put together a formidable programme.  Suffice it to say that we are presenting a triple-bill opening.  On Tuesday 6 June, there will be the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra performing two of my more important choral and symphonic works, namely, ‘A Canticle Cantata’ for full orchestra, soprano, tenor, and double choir, and ‘Symphony no. 3, The Apocalypse Verses’, for full orchestra, tenor solo, and big choir.  On Wednesday 7 June, we will be hosting the world-famous Cappella Pontificia Sistina who will give a concert of sacred music under the direction of Massimo Palombella. Negotiations for this august event have been going on for months and we are extremely pleased that this dream will now be realised.  The Sistine Chapel Choir will be flying purposely to Gozo to perform in our Festival, and this is an unprecedented initiative both for the Festival and the Sistine Chapel Choir. Then, on Thursday 8 June, the choir of the University of Delaware, a top-notch choral ensemble in the USA, will give a concert after their joint initiative with the Laudate Pueri Choir of St George’s Basilica in MPO concert of 6 June.

Apart from this, comprehensively, this year’s 20th edition will see 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, and Taiwan – 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 Ensemble KlangEssenz and Mozarteum Piano Trio, just to mention a couple of chamber groups. Other high-profile ensembles include the Junior Royal Academy of Music Vocal Ensemble and the Paris-based Urban Quartet.  The closing concert will again see the participation of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, which will perform Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto (soloist Nicolas Chatenet, Principal Trumpet with the Bastille Opera), and Beethoven’s Symphony no. 6 (Pastoral). My own work ‘Sounds of Celebration’ op. 129, celebrating our 20th edition, will open this concert.

I am also very proud to mention that VIAF has been instrumental in commissioning new works that are premiered during the Festival, and it has also introduced canonical works which were hitherto never performed on the islands.  Suffice it to say that over the years, we premiered the Sibelius Violin Concerto, Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, apart from some 9 new works that were premiered during the various concerts.

The basis of VIAF’s ethos is educational and cultural.  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.  This year we are also pioneering a workshop with immigrants, focusing on the power of art to transcend boundaries of race, colour, and religion.

Art exhibitions mounted at Il-Hagar – Heart of Gozo and other venues in Victoria are also in the pipeline.  All this musical and artistic bonanza would hardly be possible without the close collaboration of my committee – Fr George Frendo as Assistant Director, Maria Frendo as Secretary, and Dennis Xuereb as financial advisor and controller, plus a host of young and energetic helpers in the logistics department.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Ministry for Gozo which, through the Gozo Cultural Support Programme, is the main sponsor of our Festival.  My thanks also go to other sponsors who are 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 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.

Mission Statement: Executive Summary

The Victoria International Arts Festival Foundation is a non-profit organisation which organises a full 5-week run of uninterrupted cultural activities. It is the organisation’s mission to organise and present these cultural events free of charge each year. The purpose behind this policy is two-fold, namely, (1) to encourage as much audience attendance as possible: despite producing concerts/activities of a very high standard, as is attested by the programmes presented and confirmed by patrons over the years, the focus is on accessibility and inclusivity. Providing cultural activity for free over an uninterrupted period of five weeks helps the organisers reach out to a wide spectrum of patrons and (2) it also enables the organisers to come to a very moderate financial agreement with participating artistes. This policy has earned the organisation the respect and admiration of both Maltese and foreign musicians who participate in the Festival.

A major focus is on voluntary work. Indeed, to date, the organising committee has always offered its professional services for free and this is encouraging young people to come on board and help out, also on a voluntary basis, in anything that is required of them.

Over the past years, the Festival has gone beyond the fondest dreams of the organisers to the extent that for some years now, the Festival has established itself solidly as Malta’s longest-running high culture event with an ever-widening international dimension.

Aims and Objectives

The philosophy behind the setting up of this Festival has always been cultural and educational. The policy of the organising committee is that of promoting top-level local talent to share the limelight with the foreign artistes and to present a programme of cultural events that is as diverse and exciting as possible. Every year, patrons are regaled with a colourful variety of concerts ranging from solo recitals, chamber ensembles, jazz groups, big bands, choirs, dance evenings, and orchestras. There are also literary evenings, exhibitions, and master classes.

Prof Maurice Cauchi, a keen observer of the local scene, writing in The Times some years ago, described the Festival as “a quiet revolution” and, indeed, over the years that is exactly what it has turned out to be. The Festival has grown into an event that offers an equitable choice to suit different tastes and that attracts hundreds of people to Gozo every year. As attested by Prof Vella, Artistic Director of the Festival, the international status of the Festival is being enhanced year in, year out, with performers from countries all over the world coming over to make music. Works of scores of composers – ranging from the late Middle Ages to the twenty-first century – are performed each year throughout the Festival season.

This year is the 18th edition of the Victoria International Arts Festival. Over this fifteen-year period, the organising committee has witnessed solid, consistent and excellent progress in terms of opportunity, quality and standard achieved. Long-term planning is ensuring sustainability and an ever-increasing belief that the project is valid on both a cultural and an educational level.

Artistic Development

In order to ensure best-quality concerts and the most excellent environment both for performance and the hosting of master classes, thus keeping the focus firmly on further artistic development, the organising committee has gone to great lengths in setting up a concert hall fully equipped with the best possible instruments. The majority of the concerts are presented in the Aula Mgr G Farrugia forming part of St George’s Basilica complex in Victoria, Gozo. It can be rightly said that this hall, housing a prestigious model of the famous 1785 Antũnes harpsichord, a British 18th century pipe organ and a Yamaha concert grand piano, is the only concert hall in the Maltese Islands which is fully equipped for any kind of repertoire in the whole music spectrum. These instruments have been acquired by the Victoria International Arts Festival Foundation through donations and sponsorships, most recently the Eco-Gozo Project funding by the Ministry for Gozo, and complement the 18th century Santucci organ housed in the Basilica.

The net beneficiaries of the VIAF have always been the local and foreign patrons, together with local musicians, who are privileged with the golden opportunity of listening to world class performers, with the added bonus of mingling with them during master classes. Strong emphasis is made on up-and-coming musicians who perhaps do not have the desired opportunities in terms of travel for further tuition/master classes, etc. The Festival yearly organises such tuition and master classes in multiple disciplines over a period of 4 weeks in September. This always proves very beneficial. Students not only get excellent tuition from experts in their field, but are also encouraged to perform in chamber music concerts at the end of their respective master class. Most of these students have kept contact with their tutors (both foreign and local) and a few have also furthered their studies abroad with them.

A network of professional relationships is enabled through these contacts and this gives a stronger and more excellent profile to the Festival. Apart from master classes, the Festival programme always includes a Debutants’ Concert and a Composer Speaks event. This is specifically geared towards focusing the attention on promising local musicians by providing them with a platform from where they would have the opportunity to perform to a discerning audience.

Audience Development

The organisation’s focus is on inclusivity. During its 15-year run, the Festival has witnessed an increasing variety in audience attendance. Being an uninterrupted five-week period of high-powered musical/cultural activity, patrons feel they are attending a mini-Proms and the level of excellence achieved in the quality of the concerts does not deter audiences coming from all walks of life to attend. The informality of the environment belies the rigour and discipline that goes with organising the events. Apart from foreign residents and locals (including students from both Malta and Gozo), the organising committee always strives to attract those tourists who happen to be on the islands during a particular time during the Festival. Contacts are made with tour operators, hotels, estate agents, etc. Given the fact that concerts are all free of charge, there is, naturally, no commission paid, but such is the high-quality of the performances and the excitement that is generated by the variety and diversity of the musicians themselves, that the Festival is now also getting tourists who plan their trip to Malta/Gozo to coincide with the Festival.

Over the years, the organisation has also held music therapy classes for children with special needs. This activity helps reach out to a special, highly-respected audience and it further enhances the inclusivity policy that the organisation endorses. Inclusivity is further stressed by having a Debutants’ Concert and a Composer Speaks event every year. As mentioned above, these two events are always warmly welcomed by patrons, teachers, parents, and, last but not least, students themselves.

Social networking helps to reach out to one and all. Also, with the setting up of this website, communication and accessibility to information about programmes, artistes, general information with regard to ‘where to stay’ and ‘how to get there’, will be make it easier for the organisation to attract a wider range of people interested to attend.

Sustainability Plans

The Festival organisers acknowledge the contributions of various sponsors, without whose support Gozo would lose one of its major tourist attractions. These contributions are spent towards the organisation of the numerous cultural activities put on during the Festival season. Through these sponsorships, the Festival has helped in no small way to earn for Gozo the high reputation of a cultural destination of the first order in a season which is normally associated with the sun, sand and sea. In this regard, the Festival has pioneered what has subsequently become established National Policy of promoting Gozo as a quality cultural destination.

Being born and nurtured in an environment that holds voluntary work sacred, the Victoria International Arts Festival sustains such a policy. Despite being professionals in their respective fields, the organising committee offers its sterling services for free. The organisers also engage no fewer than 20 people to help out voluntarily in the run-up to the Festival (booklet/poster designing, setting of programmes, etc) as well as during the actual five-week period of the Festival. These include logistics officers, drivers, photographers, social-networking updating, helpers, cleaners, etc. Others are involved in the social aspect of the Festival, namely, looking after guests, meeting them prior and after concerts, ushers, etc.

Art Forms addressed by the Programme

As evidenced by the programme projected for this year, the major emphasis in on chamber music. Indeed, the Victoria International Arts Festival has become synonymous with chamber music performance. However, there is also drama, big bands and jazz. The idea is to present an eclectic programme which shows that artistic forms of diverse natures can co-exist in harmony. Also, an interdisciplinary approach is always encouraged and the raison d’être behind the setting up of the programme is to integrate as many of the arts as possible. Exhibitions are mounted in the cloister adjacent to the concert Hall, pre-concert talks are occasionally organised, scholarly programme notes are written for each and every concert/event, etc.

Audience Category and Participation

The nature of the cultural events presented on the programme attracts a diverse and wide audience. There is something for everyone! Such is the easeful nature of the Festival that the events are attractive and compelling to both the connoisseur and the layman, the teacher and the student, the local and the foreigner. A small group of expatriates living on Gozo have formed a Friends of the Victoria International Arts Fesitval (VIAF) and they and local patrons actively participate in the Festival by organising fund-raising activities, auctions of artistic works, exhibitions, etc. Every year the organisers are happy to see that audience numbers are increasing and this is no mean feat considering that there are over 30 cultural/musical events happening uninterruptedly over a five-week period.