Valletta embraces foreign artistic director for 2018 Culture Capital bid

British conductor Wayne Marshall is free from ‘local cliques’, cultural operators say.

British conductor Wayne Marshall will steward Valletta's 2018 culture capital bid.
British conductor Wayne Marshall will steward Valletta's 2018 culture capital bid.

If appointing a foreigner (always a touchy area for jingoist islanders), who also happens to be black, as Artistic Director for Valletta's bid to become European Capital for Culture in 2018 was a bold move, it appears to have paid off.

The appointment of British conductor Wayne Marshall was warmly received by local cultural operators, with some saying that choosing a foreigner for the post was a way of ensuring he was free from the influence of "local cliques".

Marshall, who has been living in Valletta for the past six years, was announced as the chosen Artistic Director by the Valletta 2018 Foundation on Wednesday.

The internationally acclaimed composer will be in charge of streamlining an artistic programme as Valletta prepares its bid as European Capital for Culture for 2018 - during which time the city will strive to become a year-long hub of cultural activity, in the hope of galvanising both local talent and the tourism industry.

Marshall, who had conducted the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra for the past two years as part of the Malta Arts Festival, told MaltaToday that he was "very happy" to be chosen for the post, following an open call for interest which was advertised both internationally and abroad.

"I'm really looking forward to this, and I hope that with the team behind 2018, we can work together to shape something out of this which can have long-lasting effects on Malta's cultural life."

One potential hurdle to Marshall's appointment is the fact that, apart from regular Malta Arts Festival patrons, his is hardly a household name amongst the Maltese population at large.

"This is one reason why we have a lot of work ahead of us. It's very important that in the timeframe that we have - from now until 2018 - I make myself fully aware of what's going on in the cultural scene in Malta, and that I be seen to be integrating into and bringing the community together," Marshall said.

Asked whether his nationality and skin colour are of some concern to his appointment - given that people who have held similar posts in Malta in the past were both Maltese, and Caucasian - Marshall said: "No, I'm not worried about that at all."

Perhaps predictably, musicians who have worked with Marshall were the most enthusiastic about Marshall's appointment.

Malta Philharmonic Orchestra leader Marcelline Agius described Marshall as a "grand composer" who always treated the Orchestra with great professionalism, while expressing her confidence that Marshall would seamlessly integrate into Maltese culture for the duration of his tenure at artistic director for the V18 initiative.

"He knows practically everyone here, and he really treats us as friends," Agius said.

Another local maestro, Sigmund Mifsud, also expressed his unabashed enthusiasm for Marshall's appointment. 

"I had the privilege to work with Wayne Marshall and apart from being one of the best conductors I have worked with, he shows he has natural leadership skills and communicates positive attitude," Mifsud said, adding that Marshall "loves" Maltese art and culture, while also being keenly aware of its shortcomings, particularly "our lack of proper and equipped art, music colleges and opportunities".

Seasoned theatre director Albert Marshall was also optimistic about the choice, calling it an "interesting decision", while however claiming that the Maltese-born, internationally renowned tenor Joseph Calleja "would have been ideal".

"I do understand that Calleja would have international commitments, so in that sense I think Wayne Marshall is a very good choice because he's got the same international prestige while also being able to commit himself to Malta. As long as he's working hand in hand with a Maltese team to help him suss out what's going on at a local level, and as long as he can think holistically about culture I would say that yes, he's definitely 'added value'," Albert Marshall said.

Labour spokesperson for culture Owen Bonnici described the announcement as a "good piece of news" which, according to him, cemented the perception that the V18 Foundation are doing a good job as a whole, and that they have the Labour Party's "full support".

"Having a person of such a high calibre in the position of Artistic Director will definitely open doors for local artists - which is important, because local artists don't get that many opportunities to shine. The challenge now, of course, is to ensure that he connects with the local grass roots, and that he's kept in the loop with what's going on in the Maltese cultural sphere," Bonnici said.

Meanwhile, local actor and president of Association of Performing Arts Practitioners Edward Mercieca, while also welcoming the appointment, said that one of the "most positive aspects" of it is that Marshall "is not attached to any cliques".

In the coming months, Marshall will be collaborating closely with a group of Artistic Programme Directors - who are in the process of being appointed - towards the drafting of Malta's final bid as European Capital for Culture, which will be evaluated by an international panel in October.

Although I do not know Mr Marshall and am not implying that he has any clique affiliations, 18 years residing here are more than enough to be part of the local cliques. In fact one does not even have to be a resident - like Renzo Piano.
Marshall's talent is IMPRESSIVE!