A musical feast with palatial backdrops

Bach’s 'Goldberg Variations' performed in the Gran Salon at Valletta’s Museum of Archaeology, among other treats

St John’s Co-Cathedral. Photo: Courtesy of St John's Co-Cathedral

Esther Lafferty talks to MICHELLE CASTELLETTI, artistic director of The Three Palaces Festival, on performances in the grandeur of Malta’s finest palaces.

“This year’s festival, Unlocking Sound with a Key: a Celebration of the Keyboard, celebrates one of the most-loved and most known instruments – the piano,” says Michelle Castelletti, the artistic director of The Three Palaces Festival.

“The piano can accompany, and the piano can take centre stage. Too often we think of a ‘keyboard’ as ‘normal’ so I wanted to show it off in all its various guises, from the playful and glistening sound of a toy piano, to the glorious grandeur of the pipe organ; the poise and sparkle conjured up by the harpsichord to the majesty of the grand piano.”

The artistic director of The Three Palaces Festival, Michelle Castelletti.

She explains that the festival will indulge in “the passion of the Argentine tango” with accordion, strings and dance, and “the virtuosity of jazz giants where fingers fly off the keyboard, the beauty and intimacy of song, and the audacity of plucking the strings inside the piano”. She notes that people of all ages can have a go at playing the piano with their feet in the street at Pjazza San Ġorġ, or the connoisseur might like that bucketlist-tick – The 32 with Beethoven’s complete piano sonata cycle.

Castelletti says it has long been a wish of hers to present the latter and when she approached Michael Laus to be soloist and presenter for this six-concert marathon, he was equally excited. He will be accompanied in one of Malta’s most splendid palaces – San Anton Palace – by both Maltese pianists and, for the festival finale, an international festival guest, Alexander Panfilov.

Accordionist Martynas Levickis. Photo: Robertas Riabovas

Visitors can also enjoy Bach’s Goldberg Variations in the Gran Salon at Valletta’s Museum of Archaeology, the Auberge de Provence.

“Another 32 performed by Carole Cerasi, in yet another of Malta’s architectural splendours,” Castelletti smiles.

“The famous anecdote surrounding Bach’s Goldberg Variations concerns Count Keyserlingk, who commissioned the work in 1741 for his protégé Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, in order to help overcome the count’s insomnia. This seems unlikely as Goldberg was only fourteen at the time, and the piece is hardly soporific.”

Martynas Levickis. Photo: Youngho Kang

Other events during the festival include an evening of spirit and passion at Verdala Palace with accordionist Martynas Levickis, a string quartet and harpsichord, who will be joined by Argentine tango dancers for a Piazzolla section.

“More than anything, I am hoping to spark curiosity. New discoveries are what allow us to see differently”

“Possibly one of the most intimate ways to experience the keyboard as an accompanying instrument is through song,” muses Castelletti, “and in the Sala dei Cavalieri at Palazzo de la Salle, the velvet voice of English bass-baritone Timothy Edlin, accompanied by award-winning harpsichordist Hamish Brown, will take us through a journey to explore the depths of emotion through time and sound”.

Pianist Julian Joseph

Castelletti is known for her thrilling contemporary twists and she is thrilled that the festival will be featuring pianist Tricia Dawn Williams, with works shrouded in both musical and linguistic significance, and intriguing sounds that are set to fire up the imagination – from the tinkling, magical sound of toy pianos to the eeriness of electronic sound waves.

The festival also encompasses the sights and sounds of the cathedral where Castelletti was honoured to be a lay clerk.

“It is surely one of the world’s most magnificent cathedrals,” she says, “and it’s opening its doors so festival visitors can wallow in the sound of chant and polyphony in the oratory, a space that houses The Beheading of St John the Baptist, the largest and only signed Caravaggio altarpiece in the world.”

Tricia Dawn Williams: Photo: Lindsey Bahia

Visitors then move across the marbled floors through glorious baroque architecture, to the sound of the baroque giant himself – the music of Johann Sebastian Bach on the cathedral organ.

“And talking of giants,” she adds, “the exceptional jazz giant Julian Joseph’s virtuosity is hard to match, and he debuts in Malta in a hard-swinging and charismatic trio with Mark Hodgson on bass and Mark Mondesir on drums.”

The poster of the event

Besides a giant six-octave piano – as seen in Tom Hanks’s film Big – played by fleet-footed dancers as well as the public, the festival also includes one more ‘32’.

“That’s 32 vignettes on Glenn Gould, one of the most celebrated, iconic and controversial pianists of the 20th century, on screen at Spazju Kreattiv,” Castelletti enthuses.

“During the festival, more than anything, I am hoping to spark curiosity. New discoveries are what allow us to see differently, to make connections, interpret the world in new ways and make a difference. I hope visitors understand the privilege of our heritage, and discover something new: a love and a passion, and the magic of Malta’s most magnificent palaces.”

For more information on The Three Palaces Festival, which runs from October 31 to November 5, visit www.festivals.mt/ttp.

October 29, 2023

Source: Sunday Times of Malta



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