‘Nothing stops us from being creative’ | Joseph Lia

Now that one of Malta’s youngest musical showcases has drawn the last curtain on its latest edition, Teodor Reljic speaks to Artistic Director Joseph Lia about the past, present and future of the Malta International Organ Festival, whose fourth edition was capped off with a Grand Finale concert at St Augustine’s Parish Church in Valletta on December 7

Now that it’s over, how do you feel about the fourth edition of the Malta International Organ Festival? Did it live up to your expectations, and how do you feel it builds up on what you achieved in the previous year?

Every year we try to improve in terms of quality and program content, to give the audience something to look forward to. From the casual feedback we had from the audience, it seems this was the best year ever.

This shows that we are improving and building up on what we already did. We learn from experience. We are very limited in terms of financial possibilities when compared to other festivals, but when it comes to ideas, nothing stops us from being creative.

For our paying concerts, the audience consisted mostly of tourists and expats, while the larger percentage of audiences in towns and villages were Maltese

What kind of audience have the events been attracting, and has this changed in any way over the last year?

This year we tried to reach new audiences, as we try to do each year. We analysed the results of the Cultural Participation Survey, along with the results of our own survey and devised a strategy to attract new audiences. We included new art forms that attracted different audiences, such as combining silent film with organ improvisations and venturing into new venues which are unorthodox to organ music, like Strait Street in Valletta.

Joseph Lia (inset). The fourth edition of the Malta International Organ Festival took place from November 21 to December 7, across various venues in both Malta and Gozo
Joseph Lia (inset). The fourth edition of the Malta International Organ Festival took place from November 21 to December 7, across various venues in both Malta and Gozo

Enthusiasm in local communities naturally translates into pride of our local heritage. What also inspires pride is the knowledge that international artists will play in our communities, where all artefacts – and so, the organ too – were crowdfunded by the locals.

For our paying concerts, the audience consisted mostly of
tourists and expats, while the larger percentage of audiences in towns and villages were Maltese.

 

What can you tell us about the talent involved in this year’s edition?

It is a priority to include local talent in this festival. First of all, when foreign artists come to Malta to play, they give a benchmark of quality towards which local artists must strive if they are to secure an international career. The festival gave the opportunity of two free masterclasses with professors of an international standard. One was in Malta, at St Augustine’s Parish Church in Valletta, and the other was in Gozo, at the Xewkija Parish Church. Those who attended our  masterclasses in previous years were invited to play again this year, and we plan to continue doing this for the coming years. One of these attendees is also studying in Holland at the Prince Claus Conservatory for a Bachelor’s degree in organ performance after meeting Prof. Wiersinga here in Malta.

We had artists of international fame that came to play in our churches. It was always a big pleasure for them to play in our churches and they always ask me to check if there is a possibility to play again next year.

Enthusiasm in local communities naturally translates into pride of our local heritage

I always choose the musicians that can satisfy the artistic concept. When it comes to organs, as opposed to other instruments, each instrument is different. Some organists specialise in old organs while others in big modern ones. All organists were excellent in their own concerts and strived to bring out the forte of the instrument under their hands and feet.

Are you already planning next year’s edition? If so, what can we expect?

Apart from artistically directing this festival, I also manage it. So after I’m done with all the necessary paperwork, I’ll start thinking about next year – when Valletta will be the European Capital of Culture. This year, I managed to organise everything in one month since the confirmation of funds was received at the end of August. In September, I got married and afterwards I started to organise the whole nine yards... 18 concerts and two masterclasses.

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