World-famous violinist Carmine Lauri on the effect of the pandemic, the InClassica festival and the role of foundations that support Malta's cultural scene

On the threshold of the annual InClassica Malta International Music Festival that is set to take place in May 2021, we spoke to one of its key participants – the prominent violinist and concertmaster Carmine Lauri about his experience of leading an orchestra and coping with the constraints brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as his observations on how Malta is succeeding in furthering its cultural development through its hosting of global events, thanks in part, to the support provided to national orchestras by organisations like the European Foundation for Support of Culture and its president, Konstantin Ishkhanov.

World-famous violinist Carmine Lauri on the effect of the pandemic, the InClassica festival and the role of foundations that support Malta's cultural scene

Photo: © MynPrint

The qualities of a good leader and the impact that the pandemic  has on orchestra life

As an experienced orchestra leader, Lauri singles out diplomacy as being one of the most crucial criteria of leadership, while he added that getting to know his musicians is the most challenging part of that position, especially when holding it for the first time. 

Though 15 years have passed, Lauri still remembers his first rehearsal with the London Symphony Orchestra and how its experienced musicians resisted some of his ideas. According to Lauri, a good leader should always be persistent enough to do his job well while taking care not to overstep his boundaries; an orchestra is filled with great musicians and a leader should respect their experience, and thus avoid being too intrusive. 

The COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were a great challenge both for orchestra leaders and musicians in 2020. Lauri remembers holding rehearsals in Malta when he found out that the concert would not take place, so he was forced to leave for the UK before the border-crossing restrictions were imposed. 

Shortly thereafter, the British government introduced its own lockdown, so he had to stay at home for that period holding online rehearsals. Uncertainty over the lockdown duration coupled with a lack of interpersonal communication and contact with the audience introduced a raft of new challenges. However, everyone did their best, and librarians in particular did a great job in providing proper page turns of music sheets in a situation where musicians cannot rely on help from their desk partners any longer. Similarly, those musicians who traditionally stand far away from a conductor while part of the orchestra now have to maintain even greater distance which has made their work even harder.

The InClassica festival’s explosion in popularity 

Lauri has witnessed radical changes in the scale of the InClassica festival since 2018, with its seismic growth being credited to its organisers and supporters - including the management of the European Foundation for Support of Culture (EUFSC) like Konstantin Ishkhanov

Each year the event engages with more and more prominent musicians and is progressively becoming a truly momentous occasion, especially when one keeps in mind just how tiny Malta is.

This time, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) and its guest-conductor Sergey Smbatyan will be Lauri's partners. Lauri and Smbatyan have already worked on a number of musical projects together, including the 2018 InClassica festival among other things, so both have mutual trust and respect for each other. 

As well as giving Malta's residents and the visitors to the island the chance to experience performances by leading musicians and orchestras, such international events open up new opportunities for the arts in Malta. Lauri, for instance, singles out the need for a new concert hall that could be better suited for symphony orchestra performances. Existing venues are  sufficient enough, but they sometimes lack space, especially in instances where two orchestras need to perform at the same time, and the presence of these events may prompt authorities to invest in the construction of such venues.

Cooperation with EUFSC is extremely crucial to reach MPO’s goals and promote Malta's culture

The Malta Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO)’s ongoing development is another crucial factor that is making it possible for Malta to punch above its weight culturally.

Lauri – himself originally from Malta – remembers attending MPO performances as an aspiring young musician. At that time the orchestra was named after the Manoel Theatre. Since then the orchestra’s international reputation has increased spectacularly, with the MPO even giving a number of international performances within the last years, including in Wiener Musikverein in Austria, and in New York’s Carnegie Hall. 

As its reputation grows, Lauri also expects the orchestra to gradually change its repertoire while constantly responding to the reaction of the audience. He himself looks forward to hearing what the public wants, and welcomes requests for complex and unusual performances.

According to Lauri, the MPO’s success is linked to its cooperation with the Malta-based EUFSC. Such partnerships are crucial when collaborating with orchestras abroad and Lauri can see the positive outcome of the EUFSC’s support of the MPO's moves in this direction. The nature of the reality at this high level remains an extremely competitive one, so the musicians of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra need someone like Konstantin Ishkhanov to continue supporting and furthering their ambitions.




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