Malta Arts Festival returns in July

Despite a change in government, it appears as though it’s business as usual for the Malta Arts Festival, which will be returning to Valletta and its environs in full swing in July.

Malta Arts Festival Artistic Director Mario Frendo.
Malta Arts Festival Artistic Director Mario Frendo.

Announced during a press conference this afternoon addressed by Artistic Director Mario Frendo and Parliamentary Secretary for Culture and Local Government Jose Herrera, the 2013 edition of the Malta Arts Festival will present the usual mix of local and international cultural activities, spread over a two-week period in July.

The Festival's events will be skewed largely towards music and performing arts, with returning highlights including a performance of William Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew - as presented by London's Globe Theatre - and the acclaimed string quartet The Kronos Quartet.

Addressing the conference at the Phoenicia Hotel in Floriana today, Mario Frendo emphasised however the variety of events in the pipeline, which promises a varied programme of theatre, music, dance and visual arts, offering a broad range of genres and artistic forms.

"I must say that I'm jealous of Dr José Herrera, for being in a prominent post ahead of Malta's candidature for European Capital for Culture in 2018," he said of the new parliamentary secretary for culture.

"We will give the citizen importance. Our philosophy is that art should be enjoyed by everyone. One of the things we've always highlighted is the popular aspect of the festival. This doesn't mean that we don't give quality its due, but that we challenge audiences while still entertaining them. Never was there a more concentrated involvement of local artists."

On his part, Herrera said the Festival is one of the most long-awaited events both for the cultural and the touristic calendar, "which is a big responsibility as you need to entertain both local and international audiences."

"I don't think that the 'academic' and 'popular' strands need to be separated from each other. I take as an example my experience of the Commonwealth Heads of State meeting. At one point the music of Budaj was combined with popular music, and it sounded great. So you can't sell either strands individually... you have to combine them together. Because art exists on two levels: it needs to educate, and it needs to entertain. So this kind of 'blending' is very important."

Herrera said that the government will appoint a cultural advisory group to assess what the next step in the field of culture will be. He alluded to the fact that perhaps, the emphasis was previously on 'high-brow' cultural events.

"We're going to try to elevate the 'profile' of culture."

The Festival will also continue its drive to take full advantage of Malta's balmy summer evenings by hosting its events largely in open-air venues like Argotti Gardens, while also striving to make use of forgotten but evocative locations: such as the Ospizio in Floriana.

Workshops will also orbit over the programme of events, with Wayne McGregor of Random Dance presenting a workshop on dancers while both the Kronos Quartet and members of Shakespeare's Globe will also offer workshops for musicians and actors, directors respectively.

But apart from big names, the festival will also strive to discover curiosities. This year's two festival commissions will feature the return of the Big Band Brothers in Ftakar 3, based on the lyrics of poet Joe Friggieri. The performance is expected to draw crowds on 7 July. The other festival commission, Darirari, a show featuring professional international circus performers, local artists and craftsmen, produced by Malta-based Ċirku Malta, aims to create a nouveau cirque with a Mediterranean twist, bringing together circus, theatre, fireworks, water, carnival, digital arts, magic and music.

Sean Buhagiar, a participating artist in Darirari, and a director of Notte Bianca, said the Darirari concept was the brainchild of Chris Dingli, and its aim, through collaboration between local and international performers, sets up an ongoing circus with a 'Maltese' themed repertoire.

In stark contrast to these events' festive and popular atmosphere, Gwerra, Familti... u Ommi, a monologue written and performed by Pino Scicluna - to be held on 6, 7 and 8 July - is an intimate recounting of the war based on stories of people who, between 1940 and 1945, had to face difficult choices.

And Two Room Apartment, a duet performance by Israeli dancers Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor - reflects on the relationship of the two dancers as partners in life and creators. The performance comes with an 18+ classification.

The sea, islands, boundaries, Malta and the Maltese are a recurring theme in this year's festival... they surface in Puerto Flamenco's Isla, Ċirku Malta's Darirari... and Swim: fragile interventions, a visual arts exhibition curated by Austin Camilleri, which will explore the sea both as a vastness beyond reach and a fierce border. Boundaries, it seems, are there to be crossed.

FAR, a dance work by Wayne McGregor for his company Random Dance, explores the relationship between mind and body, showing how the creativity of the mind informs that of the body.

The festival also prides itself on supporting emerging artists. This year, this series will feature the Camilleri-Lucini Duo in a flute and guitar recital and a piano recital by Christine Zerafa a week later.

Alongside them are concerts by The New Choral Singers who will perform Viva Verdi!, a concert by oud player and singer Dhafer Youssef on 10 July and such firm favourites as performances by the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, directed by Michael Laus with soloists Marcelline Agius and Nadia Debono, in a concert themed around the 20th century Harpsichord.

The Malta Philharmonic Orchestra will also close the festival in grand style on 14 July in a concert featuring the popular all-time favourite Rhapsody in Blue, conducted and performed by Wayne Marshall.

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