InClassica Festival Welcomes Malta’s Minister for the Arts to Star-Studded Press Conference

Thursday 16th September marked a prestigious press conference for the ground-breaking InClassica International Music Festival in Dubai, welcoming honoured guests to its prestigious panel of speakers, including the Republic of Malta’s Minister for National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government, the Honourable José Herrera, and the Ambassador of Malta to the United Arab Emirates, H.E. Maria Camilleri Calleja. The event was presented by the festival’s organisers, the European Foundation for Support of Culture (EUFSC) and SAMIT Event Group, and was hosted at the MusicHall of Dubai’s palatial Jumeirah Zabeel Saray hotel.

From left to right: Sigmund Mifsud, Sergey Smbatyan, Catherine Tabone, Anna Tifu, Mischa Maisky, Konstantin Ishkhanov, The Hon. José Herrera, Alan Chircop, Joseph Calleja, H.E. Maria Camilleri Calleja, Michael Francis

From left to right: Sigmund Mifsud, Sergey Smbatyan, Catherine Tabone, Anna Tifu, Mischa Maisky, Konstantin Ishkhanov, The Hon. José Herrera, Alan Chircop, Joseph Calleja, H.E. Maria Camilleri Calleja, Michael Francis

The InClassica Festival, a highly anticipated festival of considerable prestige and international reach began 28th August and is being held until 26th September. The event welcomes 37 world-renowned soloists, twelve celebrated conductors and seven leading orchestras, in a celebration of musical brilliance and international collaboration. For this special event taking place 16th September, the event welcomed a prestigious array of speakers, including:


  • Mr Konstantin Ishkhanov, President of the EUFSC
  • Mr Alan Chircop, Artistic Director of the EUFSC
  • Mr Mark Jan Kar, General Manager of the Coca-Cola Arena
  • The Honourable José Herrera, Malta’s Minister for National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government
  • H.E. Maria Camilleri Calleja, Ambassador of the Republic of Malta to the United Arab Emirates
  • Mr Joseph Calleja, Metropolitan Opera Star, Grammy-nominated exclusive Decca Classics recording artist, featured soloist at the 2011 Nobel Prize Concert in Stockholm and recipient of the 2014 International Opera Awards’ Readers’ Award
  • Mr Mischa Maisky, exclusive Deutsche Grammophon artist, five-times recipient of the Record Academy Prize in Tokyo, three-times recipient of the Echo Deutscher Schallplattenpreis award and multiple Grammy Award-nominee
  • Ms Stella Chen, recipient of the 2020 Avery Fisher Career Grant, 2020 Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award and Robert Levin Award (Harvard University), top prize winner of the Tibor Varga International Violin Competition, youngest ever prize winner of the Menuhin Competition and Winner of the 2019 Queen Elisabeth Competition
  • Ms Anna Tifu, winner of multiple international competitions including the George Enescu Competition in Bucharest, Marcello Abbado International Competition and the Viotti Valsesia International Competition
  • Mr Sergey Smbatyan, Principal Conductor of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra and Founder, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra
  • Mr Michael Francis, Chief Conductor of the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz and Music Director of the Mainly Mozart Festival in San Diego
  • Mr Sigmund Mifsud, CEO of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Ms Catherine Tabone, Acting Chairman of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra and CEO of the Valletta Cultural Agency


Opening remarks were provided by the EUFSC’s President, Konstantin Ishkhanov, who said: “Good morning everyone. I would like to warmly welcome you to this press conference, and offer my thanks to all the speakers today. InClassica has been running for over a month now, and is proving to be a great success. It is with great pleasure that I would like to welcome two very distinguished guests: Dr. José Herrera, Malta’s Minister for National Heritage, Arts and Local Government, and the Ambassador of the Republic of Malta in Dubai, and Permanent Representative of Malta to The International Renewable Energy Agency, Abu Dhabi, Her Excellency Ms Maria Camilleri Calleja. We are also very pleased to have with us Joseph Calleja, worldwide opera star and Malta’s first cultural ambassador, whose performance last night we enjoyed very much. As you probably know, the EUFSC is a Malta-based Foundation, which works to promote and support culture both in Malta, and abroad. It’s an honour for us to be joined by these distinguished guests from Malta.”


This was followed by Alan Chircop, Artistic Director of the EUFSC, who welcomed the illustrious panel to the event, and gave his opening statement: “Good morning everyone, and welcome to our special press conference. We are on the twentieth out of the thirty days of our festival here in Dubai. It’s one of the biggest — probably the biggest — festival happening in these times, after the pandemic, and we are very honoured to have with us the Honourable Minister from Malta, who came to give his important support to the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, who are one of the seven orchestra performing with us. Yesterday, we had a concert with Malta’s most famous tenor — not just Malta’s most famous tenor, but one of the world’s leading tenors — Joseph Calleja, under the direction of Sergey Smbatyan, who delivered a wonderful performance. We are very honoured to have Malta represented in this festival with these artists, and the most representative music ensemble, which is the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra.


“Within the framework of the festival, we also had the Classic Piano International Competition, which was the final stage of fourteen international piano competitions over the last two years, and all the winners of these competitions were admitted for the final stage of this grand competition, which was over four rounds. In fact, the final two rounds — the third and fourth rounds — were with the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra. Apart from this competition, at the beginning of September, and which is now ongoing, we also have the Middle East Classical Music Academy, incorporating masterclasses and daily concerts in the MusicHall of Zabeel Saray. This also features the Kaliningrad Symphony Orchestra in its daily concerts, with many different conductors and international artists. Apart from classical stars, we also have young prodigies, who are featuring with the orchestra during these concerts, which started on the fourth of September, running until the twenty-third of September.


“I would also like to mention our Composer-in-Residence, Alexey Shor, whose works are being also performed in most of the concerts, and his works — alongside other Maltese composers including the late Joseph Vella and Charles Camilleri, and other Maltese composers, were compulsory pieces in the competition. This festival was planned over the last two years to take place in Malta — this is our yearly music festival which usually is the climax of our activities during the year, and every three years, we have a grand, an even bigger festival, which is held in Malta. Due to the restrictions and the difficulties which we encountered due to lockdown and the restrictions of the venues in Malta, we were constrained to postpone initially, and then, eventually, since the situation did not get any better, to relocate and find an alternative location for this festival.


“We thank the Dubai Opera and Coca-Cola Arena, as well as the Zabeel Saray MusicHall for the availability, resources and facilities that they provided, and this has, eventually, enabled us to hold this festival almost without any big changes, and still hold seven international orchestras and the long list of very distinguished artists that we have on our schedule. I thank our media partners: Medici.TV, Euronews, MBC Group, and today we have the Public Broadcasting Service and the Times of Malta being represented here in Dubai, and also the international press who are with us. I would also like to thank SAMIT Event Group, who are representing the EUFSC here in Dubai, to organise these activities and this festival.”


The first topic discussed by the panel members centred around the concert that had taken place the night before, and one which was of special significance in light of those in attendance at the press conference: a performance of Malta’s best-loved son, the renowned operatic tenor Joseph Calleja, with the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by its Principal Conductor Maestro Sergey Smbatyan. The concert in question presented sumptuous works from the operatic canon, as well as other well-known works including the hugely popular, You’ll Never Walk Alone. Expressing his heartfelt gratitude and sincere appreciation to be working with his countrymen for this special concert, especially in light of the recent coronavirus pandemic, the celebrated tenor said: “It’s a big pleasure to be singing again with the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra that, under the stewardship of CEO Sigmund Mifsud and Chairman Catherine Tabone, is being exposed to one world-class artist after another. This is how an orchestra grows, and growing it is indeed. Talking a bit about be again back on the stage with my friend Maestro Sergey Smbatyan, to have my brothers and sisters of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, it was an incredible pleasure, and to sing for an audience, it is something that I’m sure not just myself but many of my fellow artists will never take for granted again. Thank you to all the audiences in Dubai and those people around the world who are slowly filling up theatres, it seems the public miss opera, and the whole gamut of classical music. Thank you for having the courage and the love for music. Without music we are nothing so it’s good that we are now restarting. Last but not least, the European Foundation and SAMIT, the two companies presenting InClassica, thank you so much for first of all finding the inspiration in this climate, for finding the energy and for having the will to discover and to bring all these artists from their different genres together. Thank you so much.”


Echoing Mr Calleja’s comments, and noting the MPO’s long-standing relationship with the EUFSC, the orchestra’s CEO, Sigmund Mifsud, spoke of his belief that, “ such circumstances and such challenging times, music is the answer, and this is what’s happening here in Dubai. I believe that Dubai is setting an example to the world, it’s being an inspiration to many countries, and thanks to InClassica all this is happening now. Behind InClassica obviously there’s a great man and I would like to thank Mr Konstantin Ishkhanov for his vision but I would also like to thank his incredible team for the great projects that we did together.”


The panel’s Sergey Smbatyan, a noted conductor and cultural leader in both his native Armenia and now in his role as Principal Conductor of the MPO, spoke warmly about the concert, stating early in the proceedings that, “Yesterday was a very special concert. For me, after a long break, a concert to the public with Joseph Calleja and the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra — there were crazy emotions. We performed a very bright and warm programme. I had mixed feelings because it was not my first concert during the festival, but I agree that the fantastic combination of the greatest artists, the different programmes is amazing and it’s fantastic to perform, to work and to speak about art. To be here is the greatest honour, and every time to go on stage with Joseph and to celebrate this feeling, because we performed together in Dubai two months ago, and to come back again is something very special for me.”


This latest collaboration in the UAE’s most populous city was the pair’s second recent occasion on stage together, following the EUFSC’s hugely successful Symphonic Middle East Festival — an event which also featured InClassica’s Stella Chen — in June at Dubai Opera and the Music Hall of the Emirates. Indeed, InClassica’s first thirteen concerts this August and September took place at Dubai Opera, before moving to the city’s iconic Coca-Cola Arena, a vast venue specially reconfigured for the more intimate setting suited to classical music. The arena’s General Manager, Mark Jan Kar, said of the occasion: “It’s certainly been a privilege for the city of Dubai to host the InClassica series, and seeing the phenomenal content over the venues here, and the Competition and the Academy as well is amazing. All that the European Foundation for Support of Culture, SAMIT, and all its associates have put in from planning and logistics is incredible, and although it’s certainly unfortunate that it cannot be in Malta, we are very honoured and privileged to have it in the city of Dubai. As a venue it’s been a pleasure to work with the team. It’s our first symphonic series, and it’s also a fantastic way to showcase the versatility and multi-purpose nature of the venue. Our capacity is 17,000 people and yet we still managed to beautifully design a venue that can host up to a thousand people every night during the InClassica series.”


Noting this return to Dubai following her appearance as part of Symphonic Middle East, and speaking of her anticipation of her upcoming concert, Stella Chen commented: “It’s absolutely magical to return to Dubai. The view is incredible, I’m so happy to be back. The last time I was here I had just graduated with my doctorate and then immediately got on the plane, came to Dubai then played the concert and had to go back home, so I’m very glad to be here for a couple more days this time. It’s my first time collaborating with Michel Francis and his orchestra and I couldn’t be any more thrilled. I just wanted to join everyone in the chorus of appreciation for everyone who was involved in making this happen because it is so special to be performing for live audiences, especially after the dearth of concerts, and I’ve really come to appreciate the dialogue between not only the composer and the performer, but also the audience. So I just wanted to say thank you, and I’m so delighted to be here with this fantastic group of artists.”


This press conference was of course of particularly special import, due to the highly distinguished guests from Malta’s political and cultural management spheres present in attendance as previously stated. Malta’s Ambassador to the UAE, H.E. Maria Camilleri Calleja: “I wish to congratulate the Foundation and SAMIT and the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, and all involved in the InClassica festival who have made this possible. It’s very difficult to say anything after so many beautiful speeches and so much gratitude that has been expressed but I would like to say thank you to the honourable Minister for his support to this initiative, for even taking the trouble to come here – I’m sure it’s no trouble at all for him but a pleasure. I would like to thank Maestro Joseph Calleja, and I would like to see more of him here. Last time when we met it was a meeting of two ‘Callejas’, one distinctly greater than the other of course. I am very proud as the representative of my country, Malta, that we have been able to, through this teamwork, bring so much richness in culture, and support for artists which is very, very important. It’s not the size of the country but the size of the idea that counts so I’d like to finish by saying ‘Thank you for the music.”


The presence of Dr Herrera, in particular, was of particular interest, the significance of a serving government minister’s presence abroad noted and gratefully received by those in attendance at the press conference. Speaking extensively of his visit to the InClassica International Music Festival, and of his impressions on the work of the EUFSC generally, the minister said the following:


“This trip was actually quite an experience for me, to witness first-hand the performance of Malta’s philharmonic orchestra performing in an international festival. I’ve followed many performances by the orchestra in Malta, but this is my first experience in this regard. The philharmonic orchestra in Malta is a very important asset within my portfolio. There are many other orchestras in Malta but, obviously, the national orchestra is unique and of great importance for the Maltese cultural has been growing over the years and our ambition is to have an orchestra which can level out with other prestigious orchestras, especially with European ones to continue enhancing Malta’s cultural scene and Malta’s cultural prestige. I also enjoyed hearing one of my favourite performers, Joseph Calleja, whom I’ve been following for a number of years. He’s also a good friend of mine, and I congratulate him for his unique style and for promoting Malta’s interest abroad. He’s also Malta’s cultural ambassador, so foremost a performer but he’s also Malta’s cultural ambassador, so he probably also sees these trips as an important opportunity to promote Malta’s cultural interests.


“Malta has long since been looked upon as a promoter of the arts, even for centuries, even under the rule of the Knights of Malta – we have a theatre for example, the Manoel Theatre, which is one of the oldest working theatres in Europe – and so Malta, being a classical country, should promote a classical aspect of culture. Valletta, for instance, a couple of years ago, was also elevated to the status of Capital City of Culture of Europe for a year. We took this very seriously, and this experience also left a strong legacy in Malta. We have a foundation to continue promoting this legacy, so yes, we do give a lot of importance to culture. Malta is a tourist-based country and without culture and without arts we cannot continue to promote Malta in that direction.


“I also would like to thank the European Foundation for Support of Culture, which has been supporting the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra for many years, and also supports other entities, and for giving us the opportunity to be present here in Dubai. Dubai is a very vibrant city. It grew from almost nothing to one of the busiest cities that I have ever visited. It’s also cosmopolitan so if you’re living here you tend to attract the attention of the international world more easily. At the moment there’s also a very important Expo being organised, in which Malta is also participating, so it’s great to be here. Thank you for the experience.”


InClassica Festival Welcomes Malta’s Minister for the Arts to Star-Studded Press Conference

InClassica International Music Festival, Press Conference Thursday 16th September, at the MusicHall of Jumeirah Zabeel Saray Hotel, Dubai


Despite its relatively small size geographically, Malta has demonstrated a richness of culture, history and artistic heritage that extends far beyond this and its borders over the years, and, in addition to such recent legends as singer Joseph Calleja, composer Joseph Vella and visual artist Gabriel Caruana, has welcomed numerous visitors to its shores both as tourists and as important visiting creative personalities. As noted previously, the MPO has been a key meeting point in the classical world between Malta and the rest of the world, and has, in recent years, benefitted significantly from its partnership with the Malta-based European Foundation for Support of Culture and its President, the cultural entrepreneur Konstantin Ishkhanov. Emphasising this, the orchestra’s CEO spoke of his belief of how, “ such challenging times, music is the answer, and this is what’s happening here in Dubai. I believe that Dubai is setting an example to the world, it’s being an inspiration to many countries, and thanks to InClassica all this is happening now. Behind InClassica obviously there’s a great man and I would like to thank Mr Konstantin Ishkhanov for his vision but I would also like to thank his incredible team for the great projects that we have done together. Thanks to these important concerts with important artists, we are growing and we are growing together with the Joseph said, our orchestra is growing and I would also like to thank our team — our management team, our musicians, but most especially our Principal Conductor Sergey Smbatyan, who, thanks to him, yes indeed our orchestra is growing very fast.”


Mr Mifsud also personally thanked the project’s Composer-In-Residence, Alexey Shor, a composer who has contributed a significant number of works to InClassica’s varied programme, and to concerts of the MPO both at home in Malta and overseas. Mr Shor is known for his uniquely communicable blend of tonal harmony, traditional orchestration and focus on intuitive melodies. When asked by a member of the press as to whether the presence of Mr Shor — someone whose works she has performed on occasions in the past — might affect her interpretation of the piece, she said: “It’s always a joy to play this piece, no matter with whom, and I feel like every time I approach it there’s more to uncover. I would hope that I’m not scared by the fact that the composer will be in the audience, but of course it will be wonderful to have him there and I’m looking forward to speaking to him in person. We’ve exchanged some messages since the last time I played the piece, it’s a privilege to have him here, and I’m looking forward to creating a new interpretation here with Maestro Francis.”


Michael Francis, Chief Conductor of the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz: “​​It’s a pleasure to be here. I congratulate everybody involved for this amazing whole season that you’ve managed to create under the most trying conditions. It really is a testament to courage and the necessity of our glorious art form at this time, it’s really wonderful. I haven’t had the chance to visit Malta yet. I used to be in the London Symphony Orchestra in a former life and Carmine Lauri, one of Malta’s great talents, would always tell me how beautiful the island is and I look forward to going at some point in the future. However, it’s a great pleasure to be here in Dubai and the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz are delighted and honoured to be invited here.


“It’s a great pleasure to sit next to Mischa Maisky, and I’m, of course, looking forward incredibly to working with the four soloists we have — Stella Chen, Anna Tifu, Carmen Giannattasio and Andrey Gugnin — and it will be a pleasure to perform Alexey Shor’s music as well, we are very much looking forward to that. Our programmes will be a lovely blend of great European classics, particularly German — Brahms’s First Symphony, a very unusual version of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in the Mahler version, which is a little like Beethoven on steroids, which is a marvellous thing to witness and to hear! And then we have a small piece by Stravinsky called The Firebird, which I’m sure you will enjoy as well. The orchestra is tremendously excited to be here on tour, it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to showcase our talents, but above all to participate in this marvellous festival, so I congratulate everybody involved out here in Dubai but also in Malta, and all the visionaries that have managed to make this fantastic festival come to life. Congratulations to everybody.”


It has often been the case that orchestras of major orchestras have appointed conductors from outside their own national borders, embracing the enhanced cultural collaborations and potential for fresh artistic viewpoints that such individuals can bring. Earlier in its programme as part of its series of concerts at Dubai Opera, InClassica notably featured the Slovak National Orchestra, for example, conducted by their Principal Conductor, Daniel Raiskin, a citizen of both Russia and The Netherlands. This was also evident by the presence of Michael Francis, a representative of both the UK and USA, in his role with the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz. Another such notable appointment, as previously mentioned by the speakers on the panel, is that of the Armenian national, Sergey Smbatyan, to the role of Principal Conductor of the MPO in 2019. Speaking in detail of her views on InClassica and her personal experiences with Mr Smbatyan, Ms Tabone said: “It is a pleasure for me to be here today, and an even greater pleasure to have been given the wonderful opportunity by Minister Herrara to work with such an amazing colleague as Sigmund who has given years of his career towards the development of the MPO, an orchestra which is close to both our hearts. Seeing the orchestra travel around the world in recent years is something which gives us great pleasure and satisfaction, and seeing it collaborate with stars of this calibre — stars like Joseph Calleja of course with whom it already collaborated in the past — but also with other stars whom Konstantin Ishkhanov, through the European Foundation for Support of Culture, is bringing to Dubai — and has brought in the past to Malta, is very encouraging and gives the musicians motivation and interest to continue to develop their performances and their capabilities.


“...I think the MPO has grown tremendously. Of course, that is the cause of two main reasons in my view. Firstly, that is the quality and vision of its management, which is represented by Sigmund here, but it is also indispensable for an orchestra to have a strong artistic vision and to be able to develop musically. Yesterday I was at the concert of course, and I was really impressed by the way that Maestro Smbatyan conducted the concert, but in particular two pieces that I had the opportunity to talk to him about. I find his musicality very inspiring, and I think that what he did yesterday was nothing short of magical actually, so it is no wonder that our musicians feel even more motivated to develop themselves artistically, and under guidance of such a musical inspiration as Maestro Smbatyan, I am sure that they will continue to develop from strength to strength.”


In addition to these key points raised above by various speakers, in particular those in the political sphere, a festival like InClassica — and, of course, the work of any organisation such as the EUFSC — are primarily tasked with the work of producing phenomenal live performances and creating unique concert opportunities for visiting artists. It was fitting, as such, that the panel for the press conference welcomed various hugely renowned soloists to its prestigious group, which, in addition to Stella Chen and Joseph Calleja, featured the legendary cellist, Mischa Maisky, and celebrated Italian violinist, Anna Tifu.

“I must say it’s a real pleasure for me to finally have a chance to perform in Dubai. It’s the first time, the first time playing with this orchestra and the first time playing with Sergey Smbatyan. I’m really looking forward to it and the only thing that I can say is that I hope it’s not the last time! It’s an incredibly impressive festival, and I’ve seen many wonderful festivals, but I must say that the concentration of so many different orchestras, different conductors, different musicians and the amount of concerts is very incredibly impressive, and I’m just sorry that, due to a very busy schedule, I can only come for a very short time. I wish I had the chance to stay longer and enjoy and listen to other concerts and enjoy Dubai, but I very much hope that I shall have another occasion to do so.” — Mischa Maisky

Similarly to Mr Maisky — and, indeed, to many of the artists invited to perform as part of the InClassica festival — this visit marked the debut for Anna Tifu in Dubai. Speaking about this and her thoughts on the festival generally, the violinist remarked: “Thank you for inviting me to this wonderful festival. I was just looking at the brochure, and I’m amazed how so many wonderful artists are here all together, and it’s an honour for me to be part of this festival. This is actually my debut here in Dubai so I’m really very much looking forward to playing my concert on the 18th of September with Michel Francis, which will also mark my first time working with him and his wonderful orchestra. As Maestro Maisky was saying I will also be here only for three days so I hope I will be able to come again to have more time in this wonderful place. I’m really looking forward to going to the concerts because this festival gives me the opportunity also to hear top artists, and today I will go to listen to Maestro Maisky’s concert. This is one of the wonderful things you can do here in Dubai with these wonderful artists, so thank you for the opportunity to hear the best players. I’m really looking forward to playing on the 18th, and I hope to see you at the concert.”

With such an impressive selection of guests on the panel, there were, of course, numerous questions from the visiting members of the international press, which included those based locally in the Middle East, as well as from regions around the world including Europe and Asia. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that as works from the festival’s official Composer-in-Residence, the music of Alexey Shor was of particular interest to those in attendance. When asked about his upcoming performance of the composer’s Phantasms with Stella Chen, Michael Francis replied: “It’s a pleasure to come to this festival and celebrate all the variety of music being performed, and music has to be a living art form — otherwise we’re a mausoleum, even more than just a museum, so I think it’s very important that we’re celebrating the music of today and it’s a great pleasure to be performing contemporary music, which, of course, Beethoven was at one point as well. So we’re delighted to be performing Phantasms with Stella Chen. Alexey Shor’s music is particularly lyrical and melodic, and most appealing, and I think it will work very well with the Brahms...that’s one of the most important things we do as artists, especially today: keeping the great conversation going with the past. It is through art that we manage to do that, and it is so important that we allow this for our young people, for the culture coming up, that we keep having the great conversation, the deep subjects, the things we can’t talk around the dinner table but we can through the power of art, and I think this concert celebrates that in a very special but very simple way, so we’re delighted, excited and looking forward to working with Stella on that particular piece.”

Following on from this question, the Honourable José Herrera was asked by a member of the press for his response, as Minister for National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government, to the work of the EUFSC in promoting Maltese composers overseas, the concert that evening being an example, programming works by Alex Vella Gregory and Joseph Vella: “For me, to promote Maltese composers is great, it’s a privilege. For example, one of the composers you mentioned [Joseph Vella] had an unfinished work, which my ministry is sponsoring to be completed. Unfortunately, being a small country, it is tough for Maltese artists sometimes to gain international experience and exposure. Few and far between are Maltese artists who have succeeded in gaining an international reputation — one of whom is present here today. These composers deserve to be honoured internationally because of the quality and finesse of their work. Unfortunately, two of them have passed away, and although their prestige and reputation is gaining around the world, they have passed away so perhaps it’s a pity we didn’t have such international cooperations before. It’s important and I appreciate it a lot that the philharmonic orchestra of Malta promotes Maltese compositions. It’s essential to promote the internationally-known classics, but it’s also very much appreciated — especially by people like myself — that Maltese classical composers and artists are also included in any concert that the orchestra chooses to promote.”

“​​There’s a huge responsibility when presenting two orchestras, to be principal conductor for Malta Philharmonic and the Armenian State Symphony, adn to present them at such a high level at the festival, with the greatest musicians, programmes and contemporary music as well. But also to work with great orchestras like the Slovak Orchestra, the Jerusalem Symphony, Russian National Orchestra, that’s think about the orchestras, the different philosophies — the orchestra isn't just a sound, a team of musicians, there’s a philosophy, and that’s fantastic for me as a conductor...I’m very lucky to work with all of them.” — Maestro Smbatyan, in answer to a question regarding his work as Principal Conductor of two orchestras, and his additional experiences conducting other orchestras at InClassica.

With InClassica originally scheduled to take place in Malta, before the onset of the global pandemic, Alan Chircop, the EUFSC’s Artistic Director was asked about this change of location from an organisational perspective, and, in particular, his thoughts on Dubai as a destination for cultural projects such as this one: “For me personally, being Maltese and being the Artistic Director of a Maltese foundation, it was very disappointing and heartbreaking to not be able to hold this much-anticipated festival in Malta...however, we turned this into an opportunity, and for the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, this has turned into a greater opportunity, in fact, as they’ve had the opportunity to perform abroad here in Dubai. The greatest disappointment, unfortunately, is for the local Maltese population, who have missed out on this opportunity. Despite the fact that we are used to organising many international festivals — we hold around fifteen international festivals around the world — this is the biggest festival we have ever organised, both in terms of the international orchestras we have participating, as well as the inclusion of the competition and academy. I must say that what we have been preparing for two years, we managed to shift in just over two months, which reflects the amount of preparation we have done over the last two years. We are very lucky to have found the Dubai Opera and Coca-Cola Arena, and especially this hall here at the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, being able to host us with the different events happening here over almost two months. The resources and facilities are great at all of these venues, and we’re very happy even bringing classical music to this local scene in the best possible way, by bringing the greatest stars and best orchestras within the classical world.”

The significance of hosting InClassica in Dubai — a city arguably not as accustomed to classical music performance — was not lost on the assorted members of the visiting press, with one journalist inquiring as to Mr Jan Kar’s opinion of this and its wider wider impact on the potential for further cultural and economic diversification: “I think it’s absolutely incredible. Obviously, Dubai has a versatility of entertainment venues. I guess the most traditional form in terms of cultural music is Dubai Opera, and the opportunity to have music — whether it’s major international concerts or classical events like we have right now — is important across the entire tourism strategy. As we welcome Expo 2020 in a few days’ times, across many of the pavilions the different cultural music is coming through different traditional formats, so the opportunity to bring the inclassica series and musicians, from both a practising and recording opportunity as well, I think is a very important strategy for Dubai tourism. And one that, honestly speaking, InClassica has probably brought to the front of their attention perhaps more than it was previously.”

Expanding on Mr Jan Kar’s words and emphasising the role of Malta’s embassy in the UAE and its efforts working in tandem with cultural initiatives such as InClassica, Ms Camilleri Calleja stated: “The role of the embassy in any country is to support its own product, to sell and promote Malta. Therefore, it comes only naturally to be in our portfolio to support these activities and ideas, to be present, and to give, shall we say, that ‘added value’ with our presence to the much bigger value artists bring to the cultural scene. I would like to say something about culture: It is, in many ways, a driver of the economy as well. It’s an important part of the economy, but it’s not only that. Culture should be a lifestyle starting with education of our children, so it’s important that these activities are not only supported by the embassy, but celebrated also by the Maltese community and other communities in the country, to show what Malta is capable of and to transmit the idea of what Malta is and what it breeds. The last time I met Joseph Calleja last June, I was very angry at him because he ruined my makeup. When you’re outside your country and you see what your country is capable of, you realise that your country is much bigger than what geography dictates and what the population dictates. It’s what a country can transmit: the verve of the country comes down through the artists, and to the product that the artist is able to convey.”

Of course, the notion presented in the comments above of enhanced cultural and touristic opportunities is something that works bi-directionally, facilitating positive changes to both the destination country and for visiting organisations such as the MPO. Commenting on this in response to a question regarding the direct benefits to Malta as a result of its national orchestra being present at InClassica, Minister Herrera said: “The exporting of Malta’s culture abroad strengthens our identity and our presence. Malta is a small country, it’s the smallest member of the European Union, still a very active member and proud to form part of this union. But obviously, culture is a form of diplomacy, and it’s the best way to promote yourselves. Being present in international concerts and festivals like this will help Malta’s presence and strengthen our opportunities to attract tourists. People come to Malta because they’ve heard of Malta — if you don’t hear about a country, you don’t know what a country has to offer and won’t visit that particular country. So, being present in international festivals of this calibre helps Malta catch the eye of the international community, and attracts investment and tourism.”

Clearly, the InClasica International Music Festival has resonated strongly, both with those in Dubai, Malta and the wider artistic world in general. Press conferences for such events are not uncommon, but even in this context, the presence of so many highly distinguished guests is testament to the remarkable quality, versatility and impact of InClassica, both in Dubai and Malta. Following questions from the press, the EUFSC’s Artistic Director Alan Chircop thanked the panel, and gave information about the upcoming concerts taking place over the following five days, including performances of artists including soprano Carmen Giannattasio and pianist Andrey Gugnin with the ​​Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz on 19th and 20th September respectively, as well as violist David Aaron Carpenter and pianist Julia Zilberquit with the Kaliningrad Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Arkady Feldman on 21st September.

The InClassica International Music Festival continues until 26th September. For full details, visit the official website.

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