Music and politics in the Mediterranean: the Malta International Music Festival

2 May 2018, 15:32 | Updated: 14 May 2018, 12:34

Malta International Music Festival
Malta International Music Festival. Picture: Getty (l) and PR (r)

We went to a music festival on the beautiful island of Malta - and Ray Chen, Maxim Vengerov and Grigory Sokolov turned up too

By Elizabeth Davis

The Malta International Music Festival has taken place on the beautiful island in the Mediterranean for the past six years. This year’s edition included performances by the iconic pianist Grigory Sokolov, the brilliant young violinist Ray Chen and the legendary Italian violinist Salvatore Accardo.

The orchestral duties were split between the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra and the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sergey Smbatyan.

But first, let’s talk about that setting.

Malta is completely unique: an island just south of Sicily, home of three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and with cultural influences from across Europe. At various times in history it’s been ruled by the Byzantine Empire, the Kingdom of Sicily, France and Britain (the island even has red UK-style phone boxes!).

And it's beautiful:

Valletta, Malta
Valletta, Malta. Picture: Getty stock image

But this festival was celebrating Malta’s links with another country completely – Armenia

Armenia is a small country that used to be part of the Soviet Union. By far its most famous music export is Aram Khachaturian – composer of Spartacus (including the famous Adagio), Gayane (including the irresistible Sabre Dance). Armenian conductor Sergey Smbatyan explained that music has deep roots in Armenia:

“Musical culture in Armenia is on the very highest level because Armenia is an ex-Soviet Union country, with over 250 special music schools. For Armenian children, music is like a second alphabet. Of course of main musical and culture hero is Aram Khachaturian.

Armenia is a small country and we believe culture will help us to show that we have talents in Armenia and outside Armenia. There’s a huge, huge Armenian diaspora: we have over 3m in the country and 7m outside.”

This year’s edition of the festival saw the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra and Sergey Smbatyan perform music from all over the world with soloists like the violinist Salvatore Accardo.

A live rehearsal with the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra ASSO, conductor Sergey Smbatyan and great violinist Salvatore Accardo 🎻 – at the Malta International Music Festival

Posted by Classic FM on Saturday, 28 April 2018

They also played music by the festival’s composer in residence, Alexey Shor. Alexey is a self-taught composer.

He told us what made the festival special:

“It’s gotten to be very big and it attracts the biggest stars in the world – like Grigory Sokolov, and Maxim Vengerov. The calibre of the stars is what really makes the festival. But on top of that, this is a really nice time to be in Malta. Malta is full of interesting historic places, beautiful things to see. It’s a great place for tourists to come and explore during the day and have a concert in the evening.”

Read our full interview with Alexey Shor here >

This year’s Malta International Music Festival took place 15 April – 1 May. Find out more about the festival here. Find out more about the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra and Sergey Smbatyan here.