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In Malta, Music Against Terrorism

REPORT – The Valletta International Baroque Festival, on the island of Malta, opened on 10 January by paying homage to the recent victims of terrorism in France.

“I was afraid of this first concert for a long time,” admits Kenneth Zammit Tabona, artistic director of the Valletta Baroque Festival. “What sort of idea was it to open a festival with a concert of ‘Lamentations’, I asked myself… But after the week that Europe has just lived through, I told myself there could be no better choice. I ask you to observe a minute’s silence in memory of the victims of terror in France.”

As an echo to these words, to that pain-filled silence, came the delicate harmonies of a cappella voices. Under the direction of Paul van Nevel, the singers of the excellent chamber choir of the Netherlands (Nederlands Kamerkoor) made a circle bathed in the light of candles. They sang a succession of “Lamentations” from the 15th and 16th centuries, a programme they were giving for the first time, with stunning depth and feeling. After Robert White’s Magnificat, they extinguished the candles one by one, until they finished in absolute darkness as they sang the English composer’s Lamentations. What a performance! What beauty!

The juxtaposition of the horror of Kalashnikovs and the beauty of ancient music is heartbreaking. Is it surprising for such a homage to be rendered in this Church of Saint Nicholas “of All Souls”, one of Malta’s 400 churches? Certainly not.

Beyond the fact that the news from France moved the peoples of many countries, it held a particular resonance here, in Malta… An island in the middle of the Mediterranean, a melting pot of Arab and European cultures. An island that owes its reputation to its knights returning from the Crusades, one of those ambiguous moments in history where love of a god becomes a pretext for war.

The following day, Sunday 11 January, Ukrainian pianist Dmytro Sukhovienko dedicated his encore, a Scarlatti etude, as a bridge, “a way to walk side-by-side with the marches in Pars”.

***

In 2018, Valletta, Malta’s capital, will be the “European Capital of Culture”, an opportunity for this little state to promote cultural and touristic events such as the Valletta International Baroque Festival. Baroque? Inevitably, for it was this artistic movement that the knights of the Order of Malta brought to the island once the Crusades were done. Malta’s architecture, painting and music are Baroque. Every January since 2012 (and, one hopes, well beyond 2018), the festival, directed by Kenneth Zammit Tabona, plans a schedule featuring the cream of Baroque performers: Sigiswald Kuijken, The King’s Consort, Le Concert Spirituel, and Leonardo Garcia Alarcon’s La Cappella Mediterranea, to name but a few of the guests at the 2015 festival.

Translated by J. A. Macfarlane

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