Festivals Malta: a platform to showcase local talent

LAURA CALLEJA sat down with Festivals Malta CEO Frans Agius to discuss the agency’s origins, the response from the public as well as its current and future events

The Valletta Baroque Valletta Baroque Festival (Photo by Owen Michael Grech)
The Valletta Baroque Valletta Baroque Festival (Photo by Owen Michael Grech)

Can you tell us about Festivals Malta? What is it exactly that you do?

Festivals Malta is the national government body dedicated to the nurturing and growth of festivals and cultural events in Malta. The agency, which was launched in 2017, has a varied portfolio of mass events and boutique festivals ranging from Classical music, early and operatic music, jazz, Maltese compositions to classic and contemporary dance performance, theatre, among others. Also under the agency’s auspice, are the five national events, during which Festivals Malta organises commemorative events according to the occasion.

Through its work, Festivals Malta serves as a platform for local artists to showcase their work. At the same time, the agency also engages international artists, offering unique concerts and experiencesw for local audiences to enjoy. Festivals Malta works to raise the profile of Maltese culture in the community and to promote Malta internationally as a festival destination.

Can you go into detail about the Festivals you've held in the past?

Festivals Malta’s cultural calendar includes a rich portfolio of events which are held annually throughout different months. In 2022, the agency was entrusted with the Valletta Baroque Festival, which was a resounding success. Now, the festival kicks-off our event portfolio every January, featuring some of the biggest names in early music.

In February, the agency is annually entrusted with the organisation of Carnival celebrations which mainly take place in Valletta. Through Carnival, the agency can further nurture its cultural heritage by preserving our country’s traditional values.

Festivals Malta CEO Frans Agius (Photo by Elisa Von Brockdorff)
Festivals Malta CEO Frans Agius (Photo by Elisa Von Brockdorff)

As of 2021, Festivals Malta has been the producer and organiser of Mużika Mużika, a music festival characterised by its exclusive line-up of Maltese compositions. The festival, which was previously known as Festival tal-Kanzunetta Maltija, before being revamped to the namesake we know today, has reached a high-calibre and has become a household name with audiences as well as local singers, bands, authors and composers.

During the summer months, between June and August, the agency organises its summer events.  June is characterised by the ethnic Ritmu Roots Festival, formerly known as Għanafest, and the Malta International Arts Festival which features multi-disciplinary performances across different artforms. The portfolio continues in July with the iconic Malta Jazz Festival which features some of the best jazz musicians world-wide, and the recently added Dance Festival Malta, which was created in 2022 with the aim of connecting local and international dance artists. The festival, which was a success with local and foreign dance professionals, has become an annual appointment of many. Closing-off the summer calendar is the summer carnival held in different coastal areas around Malta, which returned in 2023 after a short absence.

October marks one of the biggest annual events held by the agency – Notte Bianca. The event, which transforms the capital city of Valletta into one big artistic canvas featuring local bands, musicians, dancers and theatrical performers, is attended by thousands.

The annual calendar ends in November, with the Three Palaces Festival, which takes audiences to unique palaces and venues, and the recently added Valletta Early Opera Festival. The opera festival was founded in 2023 and included a rendition of Mozart’s first opera Apollo et Hyacinthus.

Apart from these festivals, Festivals Malta also organises various ancillary events throughout the year, featuring intimate classical music concerts through the Valletta Baroque Ensemble and the Abos Project and Consort.

What has been the most surprising or challenging thing working at Festivals Malta?

Nothing is without its challenges, and one of Festivals Malta’s biggest challenges is the number of projects that the agency oversees. Our year is filled to the brim with different festivals which means that we are at full speed ahead all year round. Whilst challenging, this is also highly rewarding as it shows the popularity and ever-increasing need for the cultural sector in Malta. All the festivals organised by the agency are backed by an amazing team of dedicated professionals who work tirelessly to ensure that each festival is of the highest standard. I would like to take the opportunity to thank the Festivals Malta staff for their hard work throughout the year as without their passion for the cultural sector, our festivals would not be at the level they are today.

The Valletta Baroque Festival is currently taking place. Can you tell us what people can expect?

The Valletta Baroque Festival is regarded as one of the agency’s large-scale festivals as it spans across three weeks. People can expect some of the best names in early music, but not just. The festival not only explores the classical form of baroque music, but it also includes unique variations which can be seen during BaRock where rock music meets baroque music in a truly unique concert. This year’s Baroque Festival has been extraordinary so far, with positive feedback from all those in attendance. I am positive that the remaining concerts will prove a unique and high-calibre experience for all patrons of the festival.

How has the Maltese public reacted to Festivals Malta? Has it been a positive experience?

Festivals Malta receives generally positive responses from local and international festival patrons. One of the agency’s main aims is to make its festivals accessible to the public, through unique events that offer a positive cultural experience to its patrons. We are humbled by the positive feedback so far, and we will continue to strive for even higher levels of excellence. Apart from the audience’s perspective, we also receive positive feedback from suppliers from the public sector as well as various collaborators that we have the pleasure to work with throughout the year, who note the level of professionality both when it comes to our events, as well as our dedicated team members. As Festivals Malta we strive to keep a high standard in every project we are entrusted with, and I also would like to take the opportunity to thank the team at the Ministry for the National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government for their continuous support and trust they have in our team and in Festivals Malta.

Can you tell us about any upcoming events?

Festivals Malta’s next event is Carnival which is being held between the 9 and 13 of February. This national event will feature various carnivalesque celebrations in Valletta, Ħamrun, and for the first time in Zurrieq. The main events, which happen in Valletta will include a defilé with carnival floats, choreographed dances, grotesque masks, street theatre and much more.

A new edition to our portfolio this year is a performance of Joseph Vella’s opera Valeriana – The Titan’s Rock with the collaboration of Mro. Vella’s family. This opera was originally written for theatre by Vincent Vella and later set to music by the late Mro. Joseph Vella, however, he did not manage to complete the composition prior to his passing. Now, the composition has been completed by Mro. Chris Muscat, who will be conducting the opera as it premiers in Gozo for one night only at the Teatru Astra in Gozo and will prove an unmissable event for lovers of operatic music.

Festivals Malta will also present the fourth edition of Mużika Mużika which will take place between the 14 and 16 of March live on TVM and at the MFCC Ta’ Qali. Like each year, the level of compositions is superb and the artists taking part are of a very high level – both artistically and professionally. We are looking forward to this year’s edition and I encourage our audiences not to miss this event.

Apart from these events we also have various other festivals throughout the year. For any information about our upcoming festivals, one should always refer to the Festivals Malta social media pages as well as the website www.festivals.mt.