Throughout May, several venues in Gozo will have resounded with music and other related activities thanks to the ninth edition of Gaulitana: A Festival of Music.

I met, Colin Attard, the man behind it all for a chat. Attard is the well-known Gozitan music director and composer who, together with a hard-working team, have made this possible.

This year’s edition of Gaulitana is a rather special one for him because it coincides with the silver jubilee of Gaulitanus Choir, which he founded in 1990.

“Of course, choral singing had been the norm in Gozo. However, there was what could be called a musical renaissance in the island which became more pronounced from the late 1970s on.

“Choirs were, at first, exclusively associated with churches, later with theatres, on call during the celebration of the liturgy of the Mass, other religious functions or for opera.

“Since the birth of the latter in Gozo, beginning with Madama Butterfly at the Aurora Opera House in 1978, we now have regular annual opera productions at the Aurora as well as the Astra Opera House. Opera has become part and parcel of Gozo’s cultural calendar.”

In due course, the energetic Attard, whose enthusiasm never seems to flag or flounder, felt the need to set up a mixed-voice choir with no association or affiliation with any particular church or theatre.

“I wished the choir would be all-embracing,” he says, “ in the sense that it would be formed of members hailing from all over Gozo, foreign residents included if they so wished.”

His dream came through when Gaulitanus (Latin for ‘Gozitan’) Choir got off the ground and was launched in April 1990, taking part in a musico-literary event in Qala. Since then, the choir has performed countless times in Gozo and in Malta.

Says Attard: “In the summer of 1995 we performed abroad for the first time. It was at London’s St James’s Church, in Piccadilly.”

Since then the choir has performed in Germany (1997), the Netherlands (1999), Greece (2001), Corsica (2001, 2002 and 2007) and Italy (2010). So far, Gaulitanus has recorded three albums, Sacred in Opera; Maria – A celebration of Marian Hymns and Gaulitanus at Christmas.

A platform for promising musical talent from both islands

“We have a wide repertoire of sacred, classical, opera and light classical music, the musical theatre, operetta and innumerable small-scale works, while also not neglecting Neapolitan songs and works inspired by Maltese folk music. Because of this we attract a diverse following.”

One could add that among serious large-scale works Gaulitanus has performed works by Carmelo Pace, Joseph Vella (incidentally Attard’s uncle) and others of his own.

Gradually, an idea that had been brewing long in his mind led to fruition when Attard felt the need to enrich Gozo’s cultural calendar with an annual international festival of music.

This ambitious undertaking had its first edition in 2007 and has now become a regular feature around and after Easter, usually lasting well into May.

Well-established local and foreign musicians have taken part but, as Attard says: “Gaulitana also offers a platform for promising musical talent from both islands and a source of satisfaction is that is local and foreign performers always want to return to take part in the festival.”

This year’s edition is the most ambitious so far because it includes 28 activities. Although not strictly on a daily basis, there are days when there are two different performances or activities, some even involving the Gozo Ministry and some councils.

Venues are also varied and this year the festival includes a series of weekly outreach activities aimed at attracting the young to the wonderful world of music.

This is being done in collaboration with the Gozo College.

One of the milestones so far was last year’s production of Puccini’s Tosca held at the Aurora Opera House. Attard says: “This was a gamble which paid off because it was totally our production and we hired the opera house for the purpose.”

“This year we are having Verdi’s Rigoletto. We have an international cast of principal singers, some of whom have already and successfully appeared in Gozo.

“There are some smaller roles which have been allotted to young promising singers. The artistic direction is Enrico Castiglione’s and I shall conduct the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, which should be a highlight of the festival’s final weekend.

“The difference this year about the festival’s conclusion is that, for the first time, Gaulitanus Choir is not taking part. The Choral Finale, complete with their own SATB soloists, has been entrusted to the Wycliffe Choral Society from the UK, conducted by Christopher Swain.”

Gaulitana: A Festival of Music is currently being held in various venues in Gozo. A full programme is available online. Entrance to all events is free except for the opera on May 22.

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