Open­ing of the Ma­noel Sea­son: Every­body was there

Malta Independent - - LIFESTYLE & CULTURE -

The open­ing con­cert at the Ma­noel is an­tic­i­pated by those of us who are not fans of sum­mer and are mu­sic lovers and there­fore the con­cert is a sign that win­ter is nigh (Al­lelul­lia!) and that some great con­certs lie ahead.

was there on Fri­day, 30th Sep­tem­ber and the tem­per­a­ture in­side the theatre was bear­able this year. I did not use my fan once! The au­di­ence was largely made up of mu­sic lovers, but there were also those who will not set foot in the Ma­noel again un­til the next open­ing con­cert next Oc­to­ber. This is such a pity as the theatre needs con­tin­u­ous sup­port.

This year the Ma­noel Theatre team led by Dr Michael Grech and Ray At­tard had the area round the theatre cor­doned off and a red car­pet laid out, giv­ing the area a fes­tive air. Bub­bly and canapés were served by a cou­ple of smart wait­ers. This was a chance to ad­mire the newly re­stored façade.


To­gether with the Malta Phil­har­monic Orches­tra con­ducted by Brian Schem­bri, pi­anist Char­lene Far­ru­gia played with her usual ease and sen­si­tiv­ity Beetho­van’s Pi­ano Con­certo No.4 in G Ma­jor. Be­fore the grand pi­ano was whisked away she gave us the plea­sure of Schu­bert’s Mo­ment Mu­si­caux in F mi­nor. She told me af­ter­wards: “What at­tracted me most to this par­tic­u­lar Beetho­van con­certo is the dis­cov­ery of the in­ti­mate side of the mu­sic of this won­der­ful com­poser. In the first move­ment (Al­le­gro mod­er­ato), Beethoven slams the ‘heroic’ themes we are so ac­cus­tomed to hear­ing in his works, in fact the tim­pani is not used at all. In­stead, he cre­ates a less peremp­tory theme, giv­ing space to mo­ments of lin­ger­ing and in­ti­macy. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween the pi­ano and orches­tra is also revo­lu­tion­ized. The pi­ano on its own ex­poses the first theme, al­most as a pre­lude. The sec­ond move­ment, An­dante con moto, in­stead of be­ing an em­blem­atic cen­tral move­ment, is a head-on col­li­sion be­tween two in­com­mu­ni­ca­ble worlds: the vi­o­lence of the orches­tra (strings only) and the po­etic rec­ol­lec­tion of the pi­ano with an al­most “cho­ral” trend. The al­most trau­matic ten­sion of this move­ment then dis­solves in the fi­nal Vi­vace, a Rondo of supreme el­e­gance.

What is she go­ing to be do­ing next? “Per­for­mances in Lithua­nia, Mex­ico and Rus­sia. But I am a re­al­ist: I have to con­tinue study­ing, prac­tic­ing and im­prov­ing,” she tells me with her warm smile.

What does con­duc­tor Mae­stro Brian Schem­bri, who con­ducted with re­mark­able au­thor­ity, have to say about the evening? “Fri­day’s con­cert marked a mem­o­rable open­ing to the Sea­son with tal­ented pi­anist Char­lene Far­ru­gia in Beethoven’s very spe­cial

Also very spe­cial among his sym­phonies,

seemed to me a per­fect match. In any case, th­ese two mas­ter­pieces are among my favourites, so I am de­lighted that I shared this im­por­tant evening with Char­lene and the orches­tra and a full house.” Mae­stro Schem­bri went on to say that the orches­tra will be per­form­ing abroad start­ing from Beethoven’s at the Basil­ica of San Paolo Fuori le Mura in Rome this De­cem­ber, the Bozar in Brus­sels and the myth­i­cal Musikverein in Vi­enna. “I am happy to wit­ness the MPO be­com­ing one of Malta’s fore­most cul­tural am­bas­sadors. All this, nat­u­rally, thanks to the great pas­sion, ef­forts and ded­i­ca­tion of all our artis­tic and ad­min­is­tra­tive team.”


The Chair­man of the Ma­noel Theatre, Dr Michael Grech and the Ex­ec­u­tive Chair­man of the Malta Phil­har­monic Orches­tra, Sig­mund Mif­sud, were at the door of the Ma­noel to meet mem­bers of the au­di­ence. Later on I asked Dr Grech about the restoration of the façade which now looks so el­e­gant. In spite of be­ing a very busy man Dr Grech al­ways find the time to be cor­dial and re­ply to my end­less ques­tions: “Yes, it has fi­nally, moved into its fi­nal stage, the ground floor. Ad­mit­tedly, this is the most com­plex part of the project, due to the many in­ter­ven­tions over the years, and, I an­tic­i­pate, will pro­tract it­self through­out the course of the sea­son. We want to en­sure that the works will be en­tirely com­plete be­fore 2018, when Val­letta will be Europe’s Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture and have, there­fore, de­cided to con­tinue with the works, in spite of the Theatre be­ing fully op­er­a­tional.” There are very ob­vi­ous changes. The ex­treme left side of the build­ing has just been un­veiled. The door that had been opened in the early 20th cen­tury has now been closed, and the plinth on which the two col­umns flank­ing the theatre rested, re­in­stated. “You re­ally need to take a look at the sheer size of the stones to ap­pre­ci­ate how daunt­ing the whole process has been. We are cur­rently repli­cat­ing the process on the ex­treme right hand side, and then will move to­wards the mid­dle, nar­row­ing the next two doors to their orig­i­nal size, thereby align­ing them with the aper­tures on the first and sec­ond floors. Lastly, and most sig­nif­i­cantly we will move to the main por­tal and re­con­struct the two col­umns which flanked it (of which we have found the foun­da­tions fol­low­ing an ex­ploratory ex­er­cise), and on which the first floor bal­cony once rested – all very ex­cit­ing but ex­tremely painstak­ing!” I then asked him about the cli­ma­ti­sa­tion project which is so badly needed. “The lack of cli­mate con­trol at the Ma­noel has been a peren­nial is­sue. As a re­sult, for a good four months of the year, the theatre has to re­main closed to the pub­lic, as the high tem­per­a­tures in­side ren­der it un­bear­able. This goes on through to Oc­to­ber when though slightly cooler, per­for­mances also tend to be unpleasant. We feel it makes ab­so­lutely no sense to miss out on the sum­mer sea­son, when so many tourists throng the is­land and we could be putting up more per­for­mances that could re­sult in a vaster cal­en­dar, in­creased rev­enue and an al­lyear-round sea­son. This is all the more so within the con­text of Val­letta be­ing the Euro­pean Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture in 2018 when, surely, Malta will re­ceive an even higher in­flux of vis­i­tors.”

Dr Grech then ex­plained to me how the pro­posed sys­tem which is in­no­va­tive, non-in­va­sive and very green, is based on wa­ter cir­cu­la­tion “and ef­fi­cient in so far as its run­ning costs are con­cerned. This will would al­low us to main­tain a con­stant ‘room’ tem­per­a­ture all the year-round, which ren­ders the am­bi­ent com­fort­able for pa­trons, but also pre­vents dam­age and de­te­ri­o­ra­tion to the wooden in­te­rior fab­ric of the Theatre, re­sult­ing from fluc­tu­a­tion of in­ter­nal tem­per­a­ture (a fur­nace in the sum­mer and ice chest in the win­ter).” You have to like this en­thu­si­as­tic and charm­ing young man!


I have a word of praise for the pro­gramme notes which are now in the hands of Dr Joseph Camil­leri. It is ob­vi­ous that they are well re­searched. Apart from the notes on the mu­sic and com­posers there is a Notes and Quotes sec­tion and also a Time­line. I learnt for ex­am­ple that while Beetho­van was com­pos­ing his Pi­ano Con­certo No 4 in 1804-07, the Napoleonic wars were rag­ing and the philoso­pher John Stu­art Mill was born. As to the Brahms Sym­phony com­posed in 1882-1883, Franz Kafka and Coco Chanel were born while Richard Wag­ner and Karl Marx died.

I have to say that the au­di­ence too, was en­thu­si­as­tic that evening. In Mozart’s day, Vi­en­nese au­di­ence mem­bers would heckle and de­mand spon­ta­neous en­cores. This would have ap­pealed to the com­poser him­self, a show­man as well as a ge­nius, who loved to be praised. Even­tully Holy Ro­man Em­peror Joseph II for­bade such a rowdy au­di­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion at his theatre be­cause it stopped him get­ting to bed on time: re­peated arias and ap­plause could drag a three-hour opera out to five. This, along with com­posers such as Men­delssohn writ­ing their mu­sic to be played with­out pause be­tween move­ments, led to the sta­tus quo to­day.

Clap­ping be­tween move­ments and throw­ing your Agent Provo­ca­teur panties at the hand­some tenor is only tol­er­ated on the last night of the Proms. On the whole the Ma­noel Theatre au­di­ence is quite a re­strained one.


Pi­anist Char­lene Far­ru­gia play­ing Beetho­van’s Con­certo No 4 in G ma­jor and Mae­stro Brian Schem­bri con­duct­ing our Phil­har­monic Orches­tra at the Open­ing con­cert, Ma­noel Theatre, 30 Sep­tem­ber

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