I seem to have a great desire to escape to warmer climes in January every year and found myself flying South to the centre of the Mediterranean for a musical treat a Baroque festival.
The island of Malta is putting itself firmly on the map of European Baroque by staging these annual Baroque festivals mainly in it’s capital Valletta.
The city saw a huge amount of building during the Baroque period and is still blessed with many of them. A great deal of those buildings that managed to survive the massive World War II bombardment or if they did not, the Maltese craftsmen have lovingly brought them back to life.
The wonderful churches and many fine buildings act as excellent backdrop for the whole range of classical and period concerts that are planned for the nearly 3 week festival this year too in this unique peninsular city.
The harbour so aptly named ‘Grand Harbour’ plays a delightful supporting role but its no second fiddle. This is one of the most magnificent harbours in the world and it helps show off the many Baroque buildings that line it on its three sides. The architecture is an integral part of the whole experience and touring the city and other towns does add to the whole festival experience. If you have or can find an accomplished guide such as I had then it all helps to paint a more complete Baroque picture.
It is the music that binds the whole festival together planned by Festival Artistic Director, Kenneth Zammit Tabona an extremely enthusiastic music lover and artist who has been working behind the scenes for several years in an effort to help Malta to show off its Baroque heritage to a worldwide audience.
Orchestras from all over Europe have been invited to attend the Baroque festival.
IDEAL LOCATION FOR A BAROQUE FESTIVAL
At one recent evening concert some 200 people queued in the rain waiting for the last batch of tickets that were to be made available on the night. This concert was held in the most exquisite of places and was pure, pure Baroque. This is the country’s main cathedral, St John’s Co-Cathedral. This stunning of venues with the most ornately decorated and painted interior of any cathedral I have ever seen. There is hardly any part that is not painted or gilded; even the floor is made of highly coloured marble gravestones from the days of the Knights of St John.
With works performed by Handel, Bach and Vivaldi you were indeed in Baroque heaven. In both senses of the meaning, the music was outstanding and the venue provided a perfect accompaniment in its Holy setting and the sound it delivered.
Other concerts are performed in more humble surroundings like the Jesuits Church; again, right in the centre of Valletta the magnificent Baroque entrance was suitably floodlight by the organisers on the night of the concert.
One other stunning venue which is not to be missed is the theatre Teatru Manoel. This was designed by Grand Master Antonio Manoel to provide ‘Honest entertainment for the public’. Not only is it one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture its also one of the oldest working theatres in the world. It is such a gem of a place but from the remarkably plain exterior you have no clue as to its wondrous interior.
The daytime does bring the chance to explore one of the most fortified cities in the world but its very systematic grid system layout does make it easy to find your way around to some of the more remote parts of the city. Enclosed in the huge bastions the snug streets are for the visitor, a friendly place to visit. Defensive the walls maybe but the people are outgoing, helpful and in my experience never over-bearing.
If perhaps you want to get out of the city for a while there are plenty of places to see many still with that Baroque influence. One on the top of the list literally, is surely Mdina the ‘Silent City’, this again a defended and fortified city sits at the highest point on the island that has the most magnificent views across the island.
The closed-in very neat narrow streets go back to the medieval period and where at the church archives there was unearthed an extremely rare hand written music score by the Baroque composer Monteverdi believed to be the only one in existence. I think someone kept very quiet about that, but then again perhaps that’s why it’s called the ‘Silent City’? The group of fellow music and travel journalists I was traveling with were speechless when the manuscript was presented to them. This if accurate, would make this treasured document very special indeed and should perhaps hang in an ornate frame in the national museum, but it was simply contained in a archive storage folder!
A short walk from Mdina and you will be in the town of Rabat where the Wignacourt Museum in Rabat displays grand artifacts from the church, many from the Baroque period. This former palace building has been lovingly restored and also gives you access to the catacombs found below the town. Malta is finding ways of showing off large numbers of artifacts that have been buried in church or state archives and this example at Rabat is first rate.
One item that Malta did bury a few years ago and that is such a shame was its iconic colourful yellow and orange buses.
I am sure that like the Baroque Festival it will be followed by many more… as they say “You get one festival and two or three come along too”. In this case I hope it will go on for years to come… as its just the ticket!
Next Baroque Festival in Malta is January 14th to January 28th 2017
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