Bursting the baroque bubble

Ahead of its third edition, Teodor Reljic speaks to Joseph Lia, Artistic Director of the Malta International Organ Festival, which will this year be taking place from November 19 to December 9 across various cathedrals, basilicas and churches in both Malta and Gozo

Joseph Lia PHOTO: Reuben Chircop
Joseph Lia PHOTO: Reuben Chircop

What is the history of the Malta International Organ Festival, and how has it evolved over the three years it’s been held?

The festival started humbly in 2014. It is evolving and will continue to evolve to include different concepts, and attract new audiences and audiences from abroad.

Apart from the fact that it’s strictly focused on the organ, how would you say it differs from other festivals organised around the island over the years? 

The organ is the main instrument and clearly, the primary focus of the festival, for obvious reasons. However, it will be used and presented as variously as the composers tend to use it: be it as soloist, part of ensemble, or to accompany and as basso continuo. The festival is also notable for its use of community spaces, away from the usual concentration of cultural events in Valletta, and it is actually the only festival that actively involves both the islands of Malta and Gozo within its remit. 

It will also encourage direct audience participation – as in the case of the concerts by Wayne Marshall – and the music will be taken to different communities. And the audiences who would typically attend concerts in Valletta will, thanks to the Festival, be encouraged to appreciate the beauty of the churches in Birkirkara or Zejtun, and the artefacts they possess. The Festival will also explore venues like Loop Bar in Strait Street, Valletta so as to capture new audiences, and some of its events will also be taking place at countryside chapels (with an installed positivo organ).

What would you say the various venues used by the festival contribute to the overall experience?  

The churches are the best venues. They are loaded with artifacts which our fathers crowdfunded to make their church the best one around.  

The Malta International Organ Festival will be taking place across various religious venues in Malta and Gozo PHOTO: Reuben Chircop
The Malta International Organ Festival will be taking place across various religious venues in Malta and Gozo PHOTO: Reuben Chircop

Could you pinpoint some of the highlights of this year’s edition? 

I would say that the Bir Miftuh concert – encompassing the violin, cello and organ – is a definite highlight, along with the November 30 concert, when we will get to hear the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra Brass Ensemble accompanied by the organ and also during the Grand Finale.

What do you make of Malta’s musical scene? What would you change about it?

If I were to compare it to St Petersburgh – the city I lived in for eight years – the Maltese scene is still somewhat lacking in quality. Thankfully, the various festivals organised throughout the year help to inject some quality into the Maltese classical music scene.

In Malta, we are mainly concentrating our efforts on the contemporary and baroque, and most of the funding is going in that direction. However, we are forgetting that other styles and genres of classical music exist, and that they’re equally important. In order to understand classical music, one cannot just fossilise themselves into the baroque. In other countries, audiences evolved as they were gradually exposed to different styles; in Malta, we make the mistake of trying to jump ahead without any transition. 

The Malta International Organ Festival does not, in fact, restrict its audience’s experience to just one style – it ranges from baroque to contemporary. 

For more information and a full programme of events, log on to http://www.maltainternationalorganfestival.com/