VIAF 2015

VIAF – Long may she reign!

The final concert of the Victoria International Arts Festival took place on Monday 13 July. St George’s Basilica was packed to the rafters, with distinguished guests and dignitaries from both the civil and ecclesiastical authorities patronizing the event.

With a massive programme that would have made seasoned performers wilt, this was one wonderful concert that is not likely to be forgotten by anyone who was privileged to attend, either in person or over the community radio. With Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, Stravinsky’s rarely performed Symphony of Psalms – both works were also a premiere for Malta, and Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, a perennially evergreen work – this concert could go either of two ways. There is never a half measure with a programme of great works, it’s either done very well or it’s a failure. Having Andrea Gajic interpreting the Sibelius, the Laudate Pueri adding another couple of feathers to an already heavily-adorned cap, the vocal ensemble Siglo de Oro of London joining St George’s Basilica resident choir, Cappella Sistina contralista Roberto Colavalle singing the solo part in the Bernstein work, the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra and, last but not least, Joseph Vella putting it all together – the recipe is one for success.

Andrea Gajic dazzled; Roberto Colavalle astounded the audience (after the concert a couple of foreign patrons said that Bernstein “nodded most approvingly from beyond when he heard Roberto”); the Laudate Pueri Choir, under the guidance of the charismatic and charming director Rev. George Joseph Frendo, proved (if proof were needed) why they are among the very best on the islands, and why they have from the very start of their existence set trends for others to follow; the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra more than rose up to the occasion, with some wonderful playing from all. Here, one cannot not appreciate the character and professionalism of Ms Rebecca Hall, first flutist with MPO who, despite being inadvertently involved in a serious traffic accident on her way to the concert, still made it to the concert and performed impeccably under what must have been serious pressure. Thank you, Rebecca!

Joseph Vella manifested yet once again why he is a man with a character, inspiring, humble, and brilliant, excelling in what he does, even in the face of adversity when that comes along. Forever presenting new works to local audiences he faces a challenge head-on. Through him, Malta heard its first Carmina Burana, its first Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, its first Britten’s Ballad of Heroes and Saint Nicholas Cantata, its first Brahms’ Deutsche Requiem, its first Bruckner’s Te Deum, its first Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, its first Mahler’s Symphony no. 5, its first LLoyd Webber’s Requiem, its first Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, its first Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms – the list is long, very long …

And he is also a composer, by the way. In fact, and I had quite forgotten, two other new works were premiered during the evening, namely, Palombella’s Anthem to St Francis and Vella’s own Hymn in Honour of Fra’ Matthew Festing.

Victoria International Arts Festival is firmly rooted as the longest-running, top cultural event on the islands. After a hectic run of 35 concerts, uninterruptedly from June 9th till July 13th, with a committee of just 4 people and with the help of a handful, simply wonderful young men and women pulling their weight – this is one miracle that never fails to astound. It comes to an end at the beginning of St George’s week – that’s how it was devised to occur – a week that sees equally great music being performed in Gozo’s leading Basilica, culminating this Sunday morning, with the performance of yet another Vella work, the beloved Mass in D in honour of St George. Given its high-powered cultural dimension through VIAF, St George’s feast soars above popular culture and lives up there with lesser mortals.

Roll on the 19th edition …