The Victor Pasmore Gallery collaborates in the upcoming Modern Music Days Art 04 January 2018

Modern Music Days has been going strong for four years, connecting 20th century repertoire and contemporary music to video art, public art installations, dance and even children. Artistic director Ruben Zahra writes about the importance of this avant-garde music series organised by the Manoel Theatre in collaboration with the Malta Association for Contemporary Music and the Valletta 2018 Foundation.

One of the main strands of Modern Music Days (MMD) is to connect 20th century repertoire and contemporary music with other art forms. The music itself usually targets a niche audience, but with the support of other art forms, the recital acquires a stronger aesthetic attribute and reaches out to a larger crowd.

MMD has been quite successful in adopting this strategy: Rhythms of Vision (Manoel Theatre, February 2017), for example, featured a collaboration with local and international visual artists to create a video-art backdrop to the recital of important contemporary chamber works.

Meanwhile, Bandli (Malta International Arts Festival, July 2016/2017), presented a public art installation of musical swings that triggers contemporary music through motion-sensor technology. Then, there was also Parade and the Velvet Gentleman (ŻiguŻajg, November 2017), which revisited the historical ballet ‘Parade’ with music by Erik Satie and costume design by Pablo Picasso, to interpret the work with new technology to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

The most recent event within the MMD calendar was Music in Motion (MiM) – another collaborative project connecting a live recital of modern string quartets with contemporary dance. MiM ran for two nights in November at the Valletta Campus Theatre and included a cast of seven students in their final year of reading for a Bachelor in Dance Studies at the University of Malta’s School of Performing Arts. The choreographers selected for this project were dance artist Francesca Tranter, French choreographer Niels Plotard, Danish actress and director Marie Keiser-Nielsen and Vancouver-based Swedish dance artist Emmalena Fredriksson. These four choreographies presented a fresh perspective on string quartets by Philip Glass, Alfred Schnittke, John Adams and Norma Beecroft.

Audience development is an important component of MMD, as well as of the Valletta 2018 Foundation. MMD, in fact, is very different from other European contemporary music festivals, as those usually promote events to an already-established audience.

MMD seeks new opportunities to take new music to new audiences. Very often, MMD does not promote the novelty of the music per se. The strategy is to get people excited about the event itself and, consequently, audiences will attend an event that portrays contemporary music. This is precisely the strategy for a new strand of MMD regional concerts that will take place next year.

For the European Capital of Culture year, MMD will present six concerts within heritage sites around Malta – one for every region of the island. The series will kick-start in April with a site-specific electronic music installation by Dutch composer Luc Houtcamp at Ta’ Bistra Catacombs.

In May, pianist Tricia Dawn Williams will present an interdisciplinary piano recital at the Victor Pasmore Gallery in Valletta, combining the keyboard repertoire with video art, motion-capture technology and electronic music. Then, in June, Scottish musician John Kenny will present a concert rooted in ritual to mark the summer solstice at Mnajdra temples. Kenny will perform on primordial instruments - from the conch to the Celtic Carnyx leading to the modern trombone.

A concert of modern trios for clarinet, violin and piano will be presented in the courtyard of Castello Lanzun in San Ġwann in August, while in November, a string quartet recital will take place inside the crypt of Żejtun parish church. The final MMD regional concert will be a percussion concert at the Citadel, Gozo, in December.

These concerts, which are being organised with the support and collaboration of the institutions that manage these venues (Heritage Malta, Central Bank of Malta, Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti, The Victor Pasmore Gallery, The Military and Hospitaller Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem, Żejtun parish church, Kultura Għawdex and Ċittadella), aim to introduce audiences to new music as well as to unfamiliar heritage sites.

Besides the regional concert series, MMD will also present other major events. Probably, the most demanding concert will be Tehillim – Masterworks of the 20th Century at the Manoel Theatre on June 9. The concert will bring together selected musicians from the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra and from the Brno Contemporary Orchestra (Czech Republic) under the direction of conductor Pavel Šnajdr. As the title for this event implies, the concert will present major works of the 20th century none of which have been performed in Malta before – Octandre by Edgard Varèse, Chamber Concerto, for 13 instruments by György Ligeti, Sinfonietta for chamber orchestra Op.1 by Benjamin Britten and Tehillim by Steve Reich.

MMD is part of the culture programme of the Valletta 2018 Foundation because it shares several targets and objectives with the European Capital of Culture. Audience development is an ongoing commitment, as is international collaboration. With contemporary music, it’s not just about presenting the music but also about the education necessary to interpret this music… all this, while connecting local musicians with international artists to help foster performance as well as the pedagogy of the art form.

Modern Music Days is part of the cultural programme for Valletta 2018 European Capital of Culture organised by the Manoel Theatre in collaboration with the Malta Association for Contemporary Music and the Valletta 2018 Foundation.

This press release was published on the, Sunday Times of Malta on December 31, 2017.