Days of Maltese Music in Armenia, Kazakhstan and Russia
THE PROJECT ‘DAYS OF MALTESE MUSIC’SPEARHEADED BY THE EUROPEAN FOUNDATION FOR SUPPORT OF CULTURE HAS ENTERED ITS SECOND YEAR. IN 2018, MALTESE MUSICIANS PERFORMED IN CONCERT HALLS WITHIN THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION AND THIS YEAR THE PROJECT WAS EXTENDED TO ARMENIA AND KAZAKHSTAN, APART FROM RUSSIA.
Days of Maltese Music 2019 featured Maltese conductors and instrumentalists in various countries. Violinists Carmine Lauri, Reggie Clews and pianist Bernice Sammut Attard performed in the Capital of Armenia, with concerts held in Yerevan in March 2019, during which a premiere of Joseph Vella’s Symphonic Poem “Rebbieha” (“The Victorious”) was performed. The late Joseph Vella symbolic within Malta’s musical culture.
During the month of May 2019 Maltese trombonist Roderick Bugeja, pianist Bernice Attard, and conductor Alexei Galea Cavallazzi were welcomed at prominent concert venues in the capital of the sun-drenched Republic, Nur Sultan, in Kazakhstan to perform with the Eurasian Symphony Orchestra.
Russia hosted Days of Maltese Music with concerts in twelve different cities, featuring conductors Alan Chircop and Alexei Galea Cavallazzi; and clarinettist Godfrey Mifsud, pianist Charlene Farrugia and Trombonist Roderick Bugeja in eight different cities, which included Sochi, Ryazan, Omsk, Barnaul, Astrakhan, Chelyabinsk, Petrozavodsk and Saratov.
Days of Maltese Music in Russia – 2019 were organized by the European Foundation for Support of Culture, the International Cultural Foundation and the Association for Support of Cultural and Commercial Initiatives (APKI), with the support of the Embassy of the Republic of Malta in Russia, which started on 25 May and will continue until 15 December.
The project has proved to be an excellent example of work intended to bring together musical talents from different countries on one stage and create further bridges between Malta and the Nations which hosted these concerts. We have spoken to some of the Maltese musicians who participated in this project, who shared their views and experiences with MyMAC Magazine.
Alan Chircop “The true purpose of music is to unite people”
Maltese orchestra conductor Alan Chircop combines an international career in music with his artistic direction engagements of the European Foundation for Support of Culture. He has been conducting international orchestras in many different countries for more than 20 years and has frequently performed in Russia. In 2019, he featured in concerts within the Days of Maltese Music project. He describes how music brings countries closer and about the national psyches of Russia and Malta.
What is the importance of the ‘Days of Maltese Music in Russia’ project? How should this collaboration between musicians from different countries continue?
This is a very important project from the point of view of enhancing and maintaining relations between our countries. The Russian school, in music, has always been very well- known for its high standards. For the past fifteen years, I have been involved in presenting Russian virtuosi to Maltese audiences, and in my capacity as artistic director of the European Foundation for Support of Culture, I have been taking an even more active part in developing different projects with the participation of Russian artists.
I have always felt both the mutual connection between us, musicians, and the social characteristics of the audiences of our countries. This musical collaboration has given me many opportunities to get a better feel of the traditions of Russia, the unique cultural features, and to appreciate what we have in common – despite the great difference in size of these two nations.
The audiences in Russia are very warm and at my concerts in Russia I have always felt this special warm reception. It’s very nice to often hear comments, like ‘discovering or getting acquainted with Maltese musicians helped Russians discover Malta’. In this way, we act as Malta’s cultural ambassadors. Such joint musical projects are tremendously important as they enhance the relations that already exist and but also enable new connections. This is the true purpose, beauty and power of music – to unite people.
Delighted Russian audiences show their lively interest, not only in music, but also in getting to know more about Malta. So, seeing the Maltese performing in Russia, listening to them and talking to them, is something which Russians really enjoy and appreciate. Our countries have mutual respect and appreciation towards each other. Thus we feel very welcomed in Russia.
There are obvious geographical differences between Russia and Malta. Yet the national psyches of Russia and Malta have a lot in common. How is this affinity manifested in music?
I’ve always believed that culture is not a ‘behaviour’. Culture is a ‘lifestyle – a way of living’. Despite the geographical differences you noted, people are the same everywhere. They adapt their ‘lifestyle’ to their environment and circumstances.
I think Russians and Maltese have many things in common: respect for traditions, tolerance, humility, the ability to be grateful and the capacity to adapt to new circumstances, which is usually ascribed to islanders. I’ve always felt that Russians are very hospitable, while our tourism industry boasts on this very same characteristic of the Maltese people.
The contemporary American-Maltese composer Alexey Shor whose works you performed as part of the project, lived and studied in Moscow for several years. Do you think it influenced the language of his music?
In many respects, music reflects a composer’s life experience. This, in turn, depends on your environment. Becoming acquainted with Russia makes it possible to identify one’s self with the specific features of Russian composers’ works. I agree that, in that regard, Alexey Shor has a rich range of ideas. The time he spent in Russia surely had a significant influence on his work. Yet, Alexey Shor’s music reflects the Maltese mindset too; he is also inspired by the history of our island, such as the Great Siege; and also by contemporary events, such as the loss of the Azure Window in Gozo. Alexey Shor’s music is very touching, moving, sincere and lucent. Audiences easily identify themselves with the composer. He communicates with his audiences in a language that everyone can feel and understand.
Are there works featured in ‘Days of Maltese Music in Russia’ that are particularly congenial to you?
I find the music of Charles Camilleri and Joseph Vella particularly appealing when performing abroad, as I knew both of them since I was a young lad. We were good friends and I enjoyed a very close and respectful relationship with both. Thus I have a special insight into their music, specifically since most works I performed, had been discussed with the composers themselves, at different stages of my career. So it’s more than just performing a work. There are many memories which allow you to interpret their works at a more profound level.
Carmine Lauri “I’ve been so looking forward to going to Armenia!”
In April 2018, violinist Carmine Lauri was the soloist at the 6th Malta International Music Festival performing with the Armenia State Symphony Orchestra. A year later, he again took the stage with the orchestra, this time in Yerevan, as part of the “Days of Maltese Music in Armenia” project.
“This is my first time in Armenia. I’ve been so looking forward to coming here. Last year, I performed twice in Malta as the soloist with the Armenia State Symphony Orchestra. I admired the orchestra and working with its principal conductor, Sergey Smbatyan, was a pleasure. Back then, I already told my colleagues that I wanted to travel to Armenia. And now it has happened thanks to the ‘Days of Maltese Music in Armenia’ project, and I hope we will work together again many times in the future. The Armenia State Symphony Orchestra is a fantastic orchestra, its musicians are consummate professionals and wonderful people. I often perform contemporary music; I know works by Armenian composers. I believe, in particular, that the works of Aram Khachaturian are amazing. I think Khachaturian for Armenians is what Tchaikovsky is for Russians.”
Reggie Clews “The Maltese and Armenians adore music…”
The co-concertmaster of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, violinist Reggie Clews, believes that there should be more projects such as “Days of Maltese Music”: this is the way for the people of Malta and Armenia to get to know one another better.
“Since we represent a small country, such events are very important for us. ‘Days of Maltese Music in Armenia’ expands the area of collaboration between our two countries, makes cultural diplomacy and exchanges vivid and intense. Armenia clearly values its culture very highly. Armenia has many talented artists who are in demand throughout the world and who have an excellent musical education. In my collaboration with Armenian musicians, I have noted their love of music and their disciplined approach to rehearsals.
Malta may be lacking a large musical education network or a big selection of artists. Even so, we adore music and we are very earnest about our work, just like Armenian musicians.
It is very important for us to be open to the world and I think that Malta and Armenia are close in that regard. We like exchanging ideas, as this is conducive to overall development of Malta and Armenia. I am curious to know what Armenian audiences think about Maltese musicians and composers!”
Roderick Bugeja “The audiences liked the folklore of Malta…”
A piece of traditional Maltese music performed on the trombone and Rimsky-Korsakov’s music: Roderick Bugeja, the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra’s principal trombone, speaks about his most vivid impressions from the concerts in Kazakhstan
What do you think is the significance of the ‘Days of Maltese Music’ project in general and of ‘Days of Maltese Music in Kazakhstan’ in particular?
Every country has its own unique performance features. Even when performers remain faithful to what the composer intended, their interpretations vary, depending on the culture and on the musical background of the performance. This project allowed us professional musicians to share what our countries can offer in the rich range of classical music. It is not often, for instance, that the Maltese and Kazakhs can share their ideas and interests in the world of music. The ‘Days of Maltese Music in Kazakhstan’ project helped me, as a Maltese performer, and the Eurasian Symphony Orchestra made up of promising Kazakh musicians, to form a creative tandem and share the realities of the world of music. Working with Kazakh musicians, I enjoyed the rigor and discipline that are typical for their work with pieces of music. I will use the experience I derived from this collaboration in my work. This project enriched me as a musician. And I believe that, in turn, I also influenced the Kazakh orchestra and our audiences.
Why was it so important to present the works of Maltese musicians in various countries?
Malta is a small island in the Mediterranean and a melting pot of different cultures. The musicians in our orchestra hail from around the world and they introduce a richness and variety of styles to our performances. Our orchestra is very open-minded and it has allowed me to perform Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov’s Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra, which is rather unusual for an orchestra, because the piano or the violin are the traditional soloists.
Working with such a large number of talented musicians expands your horizons. While remaining faithful to the essence of classical music, Maltese musicians have the gift of being flexible and diverse. Although our national orchestra is only 50 years old, it has succeeded in achieving a high level as a philharmonic orchestra, because our rich cultural history goes back thousands of years.
This cultural history developed a profound love for the arts in our artists’ souls. This quality has allowed us to succeed in both local performances and abroad, at such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Grand Hall of the Tchaikovsky Moscow State Conservatory. When we are invited to perform as conductors or soloists, we can convey our musical culture to the orchestra we are working with.
I have tried to do this by arranging a piece of Malta’s folklore for the trombone for my encore performance. I think it was very well received.
Are there works on the concert programme that you find particularly pleasing and why do you relate to them?”
I’ve always been drawn to Russian composers, to Russian music. And this determined my choice: I selected a work by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. This work, initially written for wind orchestra and soloists, has an excellent melodic line and it is also a challenge for the soloist, who, in turn, is enriched through both studying and performing it. This piece puts technique, sound, articulation and expression at the fore.
I just love the folklore of Malta. It developed when my country was going through difficult times. It was an honour and a pleasure for me to give the audiences in Kazakhstan and Russia a unique opportunity to become acquainted with the history and culture of Malta.
Bernice Sammut Attard “It is very interesting for me to perform in those countries where we have no other language in common save for the language of music…”
In March 2019, 18-year-old pianist Bernice Sammut Attard performed at a concert in Yerevan and, in a few weeks, she was welcomed to Nur-Sultan (Astana), the capital of Kazakhstan. In October, Bernice travelled to Astrakhan and Ryazan in Russia.
So, the ‘Days of Maltese Music in Armenia’ project and then Kazakhstan and Russia. Do you feel that you are an ambassador of the Maltese culture?”
Since I’ve have studied in the UK, I’ve always felt an ambassador of my culture. It is a great honour for me to represent Malta at the ‘Days of Maltese Culture’ project.
Malta is a very small country and sometimes people do not know about this island, which is a pity… It’s an island with a rich and ancient culture.
Nonetheless, the world of music is very small… And I think that, as Maltese musicians travel around the world, they meet other musicians and show the music they can offer and learn about the music other countries can offer.
It is very interesting for me to perform in those countries where we have no other language in common save for the language of music. This was the case in Armenia, in Kazakhstan and in Russia. A concert is a time of true communication with the people of any country.”
What impressions do you have of the concerts?”
This has been my first time in these countries: in Armenia, in Kazakhstan and in Russia! Of course, Kazakhstan and Russia are very big compared to Malta. I was tremendously impressed. I have wonderful memories of collaborating with the orchestras of those countries. I enjoyed this experience of making music!”
Alexei Galea Cavallazzi “This is certainly a very important stage in the history of Russia-Malta relations!”
Сonductor Alexei Galea Cavallazzi, a graduate of The Tchaikovsky Moscow State Conservatoire. Was awarded the “Federation Council. 20 Years” medal for his contribution to development of Russia-Malta cultural ties. In 2018, the Tyumen Philharmonic Orchestra inaugurated Days of Maltese Music in Russia with the “Malta-Siberia: Music Unites” concert. This year, Alexei Galea Cavallazzi has participated in the concerts of the Days of Maltese Music project in Kazakhstan and Russia.
In Russia than in Malta. The ‘Days of Maltese Music in Russia’ project is in its second year and you are taking part in it again. What makes this project unique? What is the project’s particular importance for you?”
This project is certainly a very important stage in the history of Russia-Malta relations. This is the first cultural programme organised on such a large scale and featuring classical orchestral masterpieces. This programme allows Russian and Maltese musicians to meet to create something special.
Besides, I like being in Russia, in the country where I studied. I have nice memories connecting me with Russia.
Do audiences perceive music differently in different countries?
Talking about audiences is difficult. Certainly, for the artist, the audiences can seem to be the same… It means that we think the audiences energise us, that they received our performance very well, etc. And there is some truth in this. Yet, in fact, every person perceives music differently… This is why the word ‘audience’ is both true and false at the same time.
Ovations at the end of a performance are very gratifying for the performer. The life of the artist is full of self-sacrifice for the sake of art and ovations mean this life is not meaningless, they mean that the tremendous work the artist had done deserved appreciation from the audiences. Of course, not only work matters, talent does, too. Work can be described in simple terms. Talent is a great mystery; one can only be silent about it. I enjoy performing in Russia, in Malta, and in Kazakhstan.
Godfrey Mifsud “This project offers the Maltese musicians the opportunity of being cultural ambassadors for their nation and to promote Maltese culture abroad”
Within the project Godfrey Mifsud performed in Sochi,Russia in September and now is looking forward to his performance in Saratov, Russia in December.
In your personal opinion, what is the significance of the project “Days of Maltese Music”?
I believe that the true essence of this project is the pure enhancement of the intercultural dialogue between different countries, through a common medium – music. This project offers the Maltese musicians the opportunity of being cultural ambassadors for their nation and to promote Maltese culture abroad. On the other hand, the Maltese public is being given the opportunity of attending concerts and listening to world-class foreign performers and musical works in Malta.
How was your concert in Sochi? Have you ever dreamed of Touring in Russia?
The concert experience in Sochi was a very positive one. I have had the opportunity to perform in various countries and venues around the globe, also in Russia, but this was my first time in Sochi. The place is beautiful and especially at the time when I visited (September), it was full of life, since it is a seaside resort. The staff and director of the Organ Hall where the concert took place were welcoming and even though at times there might have been a slight language barrier, this was very easily overcome through music. The Sochi Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Oleg Soldatov was very easy to work with. It boasts of a nice group of musicians with whom I found very much at ease to work with.
Professional exchange: have you gained any experience from Russian musicians and what useful clews you left for the orchestra? Do you think that the music language unites nations?
As mentioned briefly above, the work interaction with the Sochi Symphony Orchestra was quite fluent, since we all focused on the music that was being delivered and all the language barriers were easily overcome. After all, a musician’s issues and experiences can be similar, immaterial where one is situated. I was pleased that, one of the works that I performed (Fantasia on Rigoletto – Bassi), which was a special arrangement by a great musician and friend of mine Freddie Mizzi (also a clarinet player) was a new work for the orchestra. The reaction was very positive, the musicians seemed to enjoy performing it and were curious to ask questions about it after the rehearsal. On the other hand, I took some of the CD’s which I recorded, that feature Maltese works for clarinet, and these seemed to create a lot of interest, since most of the musicians were not familiar with our local musical heritage and oeuvres.