About the Festival
It gives me great pleasure and satisfaction to be introducing the sixth edition of the Valletta International Baroque Festival; a festival that has in a few short years captured the imagination and support of an ever-growing public. It is especially significant that 2018 is the year that Valletta, a walled baroque city the foundation stone of which was laid in 1566, happens to be the European Capital of Culture along with Leeuwarden. Valletta is indeed a unique city; with a miniscule footprint which has remained unchanged since the 17th century. Ruled by a monastic principality whose rules were relaxed enough by the 18th century for the Grandmaster of the day, Anton Manoel de Vilhena, to requisition a couple of mansions belonging to the Priory of Navarre and have a théâtre à l’italienne built instead for ‘the honest recreation of the people’, or rather, to keep the restless young knights, scions of the greatest catholic aristocratic houses in Europe, out of mischief. It is this theatre, built in 1731, and having endured several interpolations in its chequered history – some good some not so good – that is today the national theatre of Malta which hosts the baroque festival in this evocative baroque city; a city chock-full of stunningly lovely churches, palaces and museums which provide glorious backdrops for an intense but always varied top-notch musical adventure. This is a theatre which we have restored to its original 18th century façade and have also acclimatized to ensure maximum comfort for its patrons both during the chilly winter months and the sweltering summer ones. An architectural miracle which holds its own with the most renowned historic theatres of Europe such as Drottningholm, Český Krumlov and Versailles.
We are this year venturing out of Valletta to two other walled cities: Mdina, the old Siculo-Norman capital where one can still see the columns of roman temples in its foundations, and Birgu or as it is also known, Vittoriosa, the main city of what are referred to collectively in Malta as The Three Cities and which lies across the Grand Harbour from Valletta, hiding behind the protective bulk of the forbidding Fort St Angelo. We will also be holding a concert at Verdala Castle, the country residence of the grandmasters, governors and now presidents of Malta.
This is what makes this festival so special. Listening to a great Handel or Bach work in a black box may be edifying enough, however it will never attain the magic of being set in a cathedral that is a heraldic and hagiographic paean to the glory of the most illustrious chivalric order the world has ever known. This is what our midwinter festival is all about. I sincerely hope that you will enjoy it as enthusiastically and passionately as my wonderful team and myself and that you will return, year after year, to this extraordinary city of ‘smells, bells and yells’, as Byron called it, but which is now sublimated into the most exclusively exquisite experience of frankincense, harmony and lyricism.
Kenneth Zammit Tabona
Valletta International Baroque Festival