Dubai Debut for Maltese Artists
This year marked an important and active year for Maltese musicians. Following world-renowned tenor Joseph Calleja’s appearance at the Dubai Opera as part of the Symphonic Middle East festival presented by the European Foundation for Support of Culture (EUFSC) in June, the UAE has welcomed numerous Maltese artists to its shores, including three other operatic singers, the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO), as well as performances of music by various prolific Maltese composers. Mr Calleja returned to Dubai later in the year as part of the InClassica International Music Festival, performing at the Coca-Cola Arena with the MPO.
In June this year, the EUFSC launched the very first edition of its Symphonic Middle East festival, a five-concert event featuring, amongst others, Malta's leading classical music export, the world-renowned Metropolitan Opera star, Joseph Calleja. The performance marked the celebrated tenor's maiden voyage to the Dubai Opera, as he took to the stage to present a range of works by Verdi, Cilèa, Massenet, Mascagni, Puccini and contemporary composer Alexey Shor, alongside the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra conducted by its Founder, Principal Conductor and Artistic Director, maestro Sergey Smbatyan. The Symphonic Middle East festival also marked an important step for the EUFSC, the project the first of the organization's in the UAE, and one that would become prophetic of its future endeavors in the region both in 2021 and 2022.
The group's inaugural concert in Dubai as part of Symphonic Middle East proved to be highly successful, a quality imbued throughout the festival which featured a star-studded lineup performing in one of the world's foremost concert halls. Other featured artists included soprano Anna Aglatova, pianist Yuri Rozum, pianists Denis Kozhukhin and Rémi Geniet, and violinists Ji Young Lim, Stella Chen and Andrey Baranov. Speaking of the EUFSC's work in organizing the event, Mr Calleja said: “The organization was very good. Obviously Covid restrictions put all organizations at a big disadvantage ... but they did a very good job, and the cultural world takes a step for the better thanks to people like Konstantin Ishkhanov, and in fact, we need more people like this who'll take the initiative and organization and sponsor these types of events.Arias and Songs from the Crystal Palace Ballet Suite, the tenor described the, “Varied program, full of the cavalli di battaglia of the lyrical repertoire, as well as excellent new music like Alexey Shor.”
David Mansfield, Head of Dubai Opera and a veteran of classical music projects across the world, spoke warmly of the concert, saying: “It has been wonderful to see the return of opera to Dubai. This has been a very wonderful event with an impressive international audience, and great talent on display for all of us. A truly exceptional evening! I would like to thank EUFSC once again for bringing Joseph Calleja to Dubai! ”
As mentioned above, this concert was not to be the noted tenor’s last in the UAE in 2021, with a second taking place at Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena on 15th September as part of the famed InClassica International Music Festival. This performance proved to be a veritable celebration of the Maltese nation’s unique contributions to classical music, featuring Joseph Calleja and the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra — conducted by their Principal Conductor and maestro for Mr Calleja’s last appearance in Dubai, Sergey Smbatyan — and presenting, amongst other works, a Maltese work: the Overture and Celebration from Charles Camilleri’s Knights of Malta Ballet Suite. Noting the concert's success and his experience working with Malta’s premier opera singer, maestro Sergey Smbatyan said, “It was a pleasure to perform with Joseph Calleja and I think the orchestra performed very well. This repertoire has an incredibly rich world of sound and colours, and, of course even more so when brought to life by Joseph. It was a fantastic experience and I am very proud to have conducted the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra for this truly magical event.” The audience seemed to be in agreement with Mr Smbatyan, with one attendee exclaiming after the event that, “It was really, really amazing. I’ve always loved opera and to see Joseph Calleja here in Dubai was a genuine treat.”
Joseph Calleja performing in Dubai's Coca-Cola Arena with the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra as part of the InClassica International Festival
Both of these events were attended by Malta’s Ambassador to Dubai, H.E. Maria Camilleri Calleja, who said at an InClassica press conference: “I wish to congratulate the Foundation and the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, and all involved in the InClassica festival who have made this possible” she said, adding, “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 EUFSC also welcomed Malta’s Minister for the National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government, the Hon. José Herrera MP. Speaking at the same conference, the minister said of the event: “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 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… “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."
In tandem with Joseph Calleja and the MPO’s concert, earlier that day InClassica featured three graduates of the EUFSC’s Malta Classical Music Academy, a preceding event held in June 2021. The three singers — soprano Nicola Said, mezzo-soprano Clare Ghigo and tenor Angelo Muscat — performed at the MusicHall of Dubai’s Jumeirah Zabeel Saray Hotel, located on the West Crescent of the city’s Palm Jumeirah, alongside the Kaliningrad Symphony Orchestra conducted by veteran maestro, Arkady Feldman. Soprano Nicola Said, commenting after the performance, said: “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I hope to come back. When you get invited to do this kind of thing you just jump at it. It’s really amazing — how often do you get the opportunity to be in a place where there are so many musicians and artists in one place. So many conductors and orchestras, I’ve never been to an event like this. It’s amazing to be a part of it so thank you.”
From left: Clare Ghigo, Nicola Said and Angelo Muscat
In their performance at InClassica, the MPO additionally performed another two groundbreaking concerts, welcoming world-renowned stars to the stage including pianist Severin Von Eckardstein and cellists Gary Hoffman and Mischa Maisky. Speaking in Dubai following the MPO’s performances the orchestra’s CEO, Sigmund Mifsud, spoke of his belief that, “...in 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.”
Particularly significant was the MPO’s choice to perform works by Maltese composers as part of InClassica. Counting works by Charles Camilleri (1931–2009), Albert Garzia (b.1977) and Alex Vella Gregory (b.1984) in their diverse repertoire, the festival in Dubai provided a unique platform for the MPO and EUFSC to showcase a range of Maltese classical repertoire, a vitally important activity for the Mediterranean island which bears the title of the European Union’s smallest country. Indeed, though relatively small in comparison to other member states of the EU, Malta’s richly diverse cultural heritage provides unique soil for artistic endeavours, with cultural influences from both its Middle Eastern and European history effecting a highly original and idiomatic musical voice. Malta’s most famous composer on the international stage, Joseph Vella (1942–2018), is testament to this, his works known for their startling originality and unique soundworld.
Members of MPO performing in Dubai
In all, despite the ongoing difficulties in holding live events posed by the novel coronavirus, the latter half of 2021 has arguably been one of international growth and exposure for Maltese artists, presenting exciting new opportunities for both established and emerging soloists, composers and the country’s national philharmonic orchestra. With so much talent continuing to appear in the Maltese archipelago, it remains likely to continue in this vein through 2022, with further appearances by Maltese artists planned at events organised by the EUFSC in the UK, Middle East and other locations across the globe.
“Malta is not only the home of the European Foundation for Support of Culture, but it is also our inspiration. Being rooted in a country so deeply artistic by nature and with such incredible talent for a nation of its size, the EUFSC recognizes the continuing need to provide further exposure to artists both from Malta and elsewhere, on the international stage. Music is truly a universal language, and we are proud to support artistic projects around the world in our mission to promote and preserve the great cultural traditions of the past. ” - Konstantin Ishkhanov, President of the European Foundation for Support of Culture.
For more information about the EUFSC, visit their official website.
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