As indicated by the name, the Victoria International Arts Festival consists of cultural events that are held in Victoria, Gozo. The main concert hall is Aula Mgr Giuseppe Farrugia, based at the back of St George’s Basilica, Victoria. This Hall, as explained above is fully equipped with an excellent Yamaha concert grand pianoforte, a prestigious model of the famous 1785 Antũnes harpsichord, and an 18th century British pipe organ. This makes the concert Hall the best-equipped venue on the islands, one that enables the performance of practically all the range of musical repertoire from the Baroque to the twenty-first century. Concerts that consist of sacred music and those that involve choirs and orchestras take place in St George’s Basilica, a beautiful church whose very ambience and atmosphere is conducive to the performance of sublime music. Other venues are open-air locations such as Republic Square (where dance performances are held), St George’s Square (for big bands), Narrow Street (for brass ensembles) and San Ġorġ tal-Ħaġar (large chamber groups). The venues are carefully chosen by the organisers for the aesthetics of a place plays a vital role in ensuring the success of a performance and it also enhances the nature of the event taking place.
List of Venues:
Aula Mgr G Farrugia
Aula Monsignor Giuseppe Farrugia is the main concert hall on Gozo. Synonymous with musical and other cultural events, it was adapted for cultural activities by Mgr Joseph Farrugia, Archpriest at St George's Basilica between 1998 and 2007. It is a living testimony to Monsignor Giuseppe Farrugia, the priest who designed it in 1900 as part of structural modifications that saw the enlargement of the Sanctuary and Choir of St George's Basilica and the construction of a Chapter House. Today, it hosts the best musicians that the Festival organisers get from year to year. Mgr Joseph Farrugia, the mastermind behind the transformation of the Hall into what it is today, is no relation to the namesake of the Hall, but an equally brilliant man in every respect! He is the founder of the Laudate Pueri Choir and an ardent champion of high culture. It had long been felt that St George's Basilica, rising right up in the middle of Victoria, needed a good space where concerts of a secular nature could be held. Mgr Farrugia immediately saw tremendous potential in the old sacristy and, in his customary zeal and enthusiasm, set about transforming the place into the present concert hall. In the course of another more recent major project of construction, again under the supervision of Mgr Farrugia, the Major Sacristy was moved to another site physically adjacent to the Basilica, and this area, now targeted as a multi-purpose hall, was modified to its present features, including an opening upon a delightful neo-Romanesque cloister on its western side. No sooner was the decoration of the Hall finished that the organisers of the Victoria International Arts Festival started looking for ways to collect the necessary amount of money to buy a concert grand piano and, through the generosity of a handful of benefactors, including Geoffrey and Penelope Haydock, bought the Yamaha Concert Grand Piano from Glasgow, an endeavour which has enabled the organisers to host the best pianists available on the islands and beyond. Another great benefactor is Richard Vendome, Fellow of Queen's College, Oxford, organ builder, organist and a musician of the highest order. Together with two other experts, he built the 17th century pipe organ which he graciously donated to St George's Basilica, also housed in the concert hall. Through donations from ECO-Gozo (Ministry for Gozo), the organisers also bought a state-of-the-art harpsichord, which is a copy of the famous 1785 Portuguese Antunes model. The organisers are very proud to say that Aula Mgr Giuseppe Farrugia is the best-equipped concert hall on the Maltese islands, a place where all repertoire from the Mediaeval to the contemporary, can be performed. The Aula Monsignor Farrugia is the fruit of a vision shared by the Archpriest and Chapter of the Basilica, the Laudate Pueri Choir and the Victoria International Arts Festival Foundation. It hosts concerts, lectures, movie screenings, meetings, exhibitions, and other kinds of parish and cultural activities. It evokes the generosity of the many benefactors who contributed in kind and money to it. It is to them, including architect Saviour Micallef and teammate Frank Mizzi, together with the Sagona family, that the hall is enhanced with beautiful polychrome marbles, decorative stucco and gold, fine canvases, appropriate seating, the three prestigious instruments mentioned above, and many more. The venue was blessed by then Archpriest Mgr Joseph Farrugia and inaugurated with a piano and clarinet concert by Penny Smith and Geoffrey Haydock who were instrumental in procuring the Yamaha Concert Grand Piano housed in the Hall.
The Bishop's Curia
The building which houses the Bishop’s Curia actually served as the Bishop’s residence. Popularly referred to as the Bishop’s Palace, the imposing building commanding admirable views of the Citadel and Republic Street belonged originally to the Bondi’ family. When Gozo was erected as a separate diocese from Malta in 1864, the Bondi’ family graciously donated the family house to the newly-founded diocese to become the official residence of H.L. the Bishop. During the Episcopate of the late Mgr N. Cauchi, the Palace became the Bishop’s Curia housing the various offices which help run the Diocese. The piano nobile boasts of a well-proportioned hall with very good acoustics. The view from the superbly placed edifice is spectacular. A really good venue for concerts featuring solo/chamber music of a particularly intimate nature.
St George's Basilica
The parish originated in medieval times (definitely before 1450) and the foundation stone of the present church was laid in 1672, rightly referred to as the marble basilica, as it is entirely covered with marble. The bronze and gold gilded canopy over the high altar is indeed impressive, but the main attraction is a statue of the patron saint, St. George, sculpted in wood by Pawlu Azzopardi in 1838. It is the first titular statue acquired by a parish church in Gozo. All paintings in the dome and ceiling are by Giovanni Battista Conti of Rome. Mattia Preti, Giuseppe Cali, Michele Busuttil, Giuseppe Fenech, Francesco Zahra, Fortunato Venuti, Injazju Cortis, Ramiro Cali', Filippo Cosimo, Giuseppe D'Arena, Salvatore Bondi', Roberto Dingli and Stefano Erardi are other famous artists. The liturgical feast of St. George Martyr falls on April 23rd. (credits: visitmalta.com)
St Francis Church
St Francis Convent and Church are another familiar sight. The Franciscan friars have been present in Rabat since the 15th century. They have become a constant in the religious-social fabric catering not only for the spiritual needs of the people in the vicinity but also as a centre for social interaction. Initially a small chapel, the church eventually was enlarged to accomodate the ever growing community clustering around the convent. The Church houses a number of significant sacred works, not least the magnificent Immaculate Conception statue carved in wood by Salvu Psaila, one of Malta’s 19th century foremost artists. The fine acoustics of the building make it a most apt venue for chamber/solo music.
St Augustine Church
St Augustine Church and Monastery stand just at the other point of old town of Rabat, almost facing St Francis’ Church. Another abiding feature hailing from the 13th century the Augustinian community has provided solace and spiritual care. The Monastery is a splendid example of architecture designed to instil a sense of calm and spiritual well-being to the oft-stressed soul. The courtyard with a flourishing garden recalls the best of the monastic traditions. Recent renovation of the centuries-old building has established the monastery as a popular centre of spiritual retreat. The Church enjoys noteworthy baroque refined architecture and altar decorations apart from a beautiful Mascioni Pipe Organ. The fine acoustics also make it a prime venue for concerts featuring solo/chamber music.
San Ġorġ tal-Ħaġar
The stone statue of St George which today stands in a niche at San Ġorġ tal-Ħaġar replaced a much older one in 1925. It was made by Ġużeppi Agius (1893-1948), known as "Il-Brejbex"; the initials of his name are in fact engraved in stone on the base of the statue itself. Agius is the author of many other artistic niche statues in Gozo, together with various stone works around the two islands. In fact he also worked on decorations in Maltese limestone on the facades of the new side aisles of St George's parish church built in the late thirties of the last century. His are various small replicas of our titular statue of St George, made in Maltese earth clay and still preserved in private collections. Information and an album of photos showing Ġużeppi Agius' works are found on a Facebook page created by his nephew Raymond. Many of these works have survived to this day but probably few know they are by Agius.
Il-Ħaġar Heart of Gozo - Roof Top
Il-Ħaġar, also known as "Heart of Gozo", is a modern interactive, historical and fine arts museum that illustrates the role of religious cultures in the formation of the identity of the people of Gozo. The first museum in the Maltese islands to be designed in the modern idiom, Il-Ħaġar offers visitors an immersion in Gozo's mystery, with audio-visual halls and audio rooms, four levels of exhibits, a spiraling stone spine illustrating cultures and civilizations and a roof-top with exciting views of the nearby St George's basilica, the citadel and Victoria with its surrounding countryside. Web: www.hearofgozo.org.mt Email: [email protected] Tel:+356 21557504.
The Citadel in Gozo owes its roots to the late medieval era, but the hill has been settled since Neolithic times. For centuries, the Citadel served as a sanctuary from attack by Barbary corsairs and Saracens. At several times during Gozo's history, these raiders took its population into slavery. After the Great Siege of 1565, the Knights set about re-fortifying the Citadel to provide refuge and defence against further attack. Until 1637, the Gozitan population was required by law to spend their nights within the Citadel for their own safety. In later, more peaceful times, this restriction was lifted and people settled below its walls, creating the prosperous town of Rabat, now known as Victoria. (credits: visitmalta.com)