“So encouraged have we been by the response to the 2013 edition that we have put together an even more ambitious programme for next year” declared Artistic Director Kenneth Zammit Tabona whose brainchild the festival is. “A baroque festival programme that incorporates no less than three major religious works; The Monteverdi Vespers, Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s Mass in B Minor, is one which is at par and possibly outdoes programmes of other festivals throughout the year” added Zammit Tabona. Parliamentary Secretary for Culture Jose Herrera added that continuing this excellent initiative that promotes Malta’s capital as a winter and cultural touristic destination was one that had the government’s full support which is why it is almost fully subsidised by the Malta Government. “A festival of this calibre does Malta proud,“ declared Herrera, “and underscores its historical and cultural significance within a European context.”
The B Minor Mass, an epoch making composition which Bach composed for Augustus the Strong over a period of twenty years is very unusual as it is a Catholic Mass. This is because Augustus, the reigning Elector of Saxony, then Lutheran, had changed religion upon being elected King of Poland. The mass was never performed in Bach’s lifetime however Augustus gave Bach the title of Hof-Kompositer when presented with the score of the triumphant Gloria. The B Minor Mass will be performed in our glorious St John’s Co Cathedral by The English Concert under the baton of Harry Bicket on Monday 13th January at 7.30pm. Entrance, similar to last year, will be free however reserved seats will be retained for those who purchase seats for at least four other performances.
“Working in a unique city like Valletta and one that is soon to be European Capital of Culture, is what inspires and spurs one to greater efforts” declared Zammit Tabona. Although the festival is organised and largely based at Teatru Manoel, the cooperation and support given to the festival last year by the various historical churches in 2013 has encouraged the organisers to further vary the venues to include the Ta Giezu church, a prototype for St John’s, and the newly restored exquisite Santa Caterina d’ Italia.
Another festival highlight is the performance of Rameau’s opera Hippolyte et Aricie. 2014 marks the 250th anniversary of the death of Jean Philippe Rameau. Hippolyte will be a joint production by Teatru Manoel and Centre de Chateau de Versailles. Rameau was fifty when this, his first opera, was premiered in 1733. It was in those days considered to be extremely avant-garde and was, ironically, called ‘baroque’, then a derogatory term, by its detractors. It was however a runaway success. Based on Racine’s Phedre the production will be performed by live singers and life-size puppets and will be given three performances; one on Saturday evening, another on Sunday afternoon and a third on Monday morning for sixth formers who should, during their Systems of Knowledge studies, require further acquaintance with the classical, historical, dramatic and musical background of the Louis XV period.
“Teatru Manoel and its experienced team of event organisers have proved that a festival of this calibre which requires meticulous preparation and split second timing to succeed, is well up to the challenge,” declared Teatru Manoel CEO Ray Attard, “Teatru Manoel remains primus inter pares; the first among equals in as far as quality events are concerned,“ added Attard, “and our team is looking forward to facilitating next year’s festival and is raring to go!”
The festival will run for just over two weeks and will as last year culminate in a Baroque Ball at Teatru Manoel. There are several other performers and performances worth diarising, famous counter tenor Max Emmanuel Cencic in a programme entitled Bach meets Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. The alto was in German theological tradition considered to be ‘the voice of the Holy Spirit’. Bach composed four cantatas in 1726 for an alto or countertenor whose identity remains a mystery. France based Maltese guitarist Simon Schembri will be performing guitar concertos by Vivaldi, Bocherini and Giuliani along with the Ensemble Baroque de Toulouse and the festival’s own ensemble will be performing the Monteverdi Vespers and Bach’s Coffee Cantata and Colin de Blamont’s La Toilette de Venus possibly inspired by Boucher’s famous paintings.
Bach’s entire Brandenburg Concertos will be performed by Concerto Köln while the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Michael Laus will perform the concertos for two pianos with the participation of Marco Sollini and Salvatore Barbatano. Music from the Habsburg Court including compositions by a couple of Holy Roman Emperors and more ‘enchanted airs’ from the superlatively elegant age of Louis XV by Rameau and many other performances are all now available on the festival website www.vallettabaroquefestival.com.mt. January 2014 promises to be even more memorable than its predecessor.