The 13th Gaulitana Festival will take off on March 8 at 7.30pm with an art exhibition entitled Together We Rise. It features works by several Chinese female artists at the Cittadella Cultural Centre. It is presented by the Chinese Cultural Centre and remains open until March 31.

The music side of Gaulitana 2019 opens with a grand concert at the Gozo Cathedral on March 9 at 7.30pm. Colin Attard, who is also the festival’s artistic director, will direct the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra led by Marcelline Agius, who this year marks her 25th year in the role. She will feature as soloist in The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams. The main symphonic work will be Schubert’s Unfinished.

Attard says that “The exhibition reflects the chosen main theme of this edition: ‘Women in Society’. Many of the festival events are directly linked with this theme. To mention but a few we have the all-female Nuovo Trio Parsifal in a music concert by Melania Bonis, Lily Boulanger and also by Astor Piazzolla”.

The list goes on: Joseph Ellis will interview Malta’s opera diva supreme, soprano Miriam Gauci, at the Italian Cultural Institute in Valletta during which students of voice from the Malta School of Music will be to able to ask her questions.

The fact that this event is being held in Malta is one of Gaulitana 2019’s innovative aspects. Another novelty is a performance by the Kazakh Forte Piano Trio at the Centru Gesù Nażżarenu night shelter in Xagħra. For the first time the festival will bring music more directly to a community home for residents of the shelter.

Colin Attard continues stressing the significance of women’s contribution to society: “A talk at the University Campus in Xewkija will feature violinist Marcelline Agius, Kazakh composer Artoty Raymkulova and flautist Clara Galea.

The latter will collaborate with US pianist/organist Alexander Frey, who yet again is the festival’s composer-in-residence. Frey will be talking about Clara Schumann, as this year is her birth bicentenary. Afterwards, Song of Love, which is about the great love between Clara and Robert Schumann, and the connection between them and their protegé Brahms, will be screened.”

The film will be shown at the Grand Hotel, Mġarr, on March 19, and the following day, Frey will perform works by the Schumanns and Brahms and which Clara premiered.

The scale, variety and innovative cha­racter of Gaulitana 2019 makes it one of Gozo’s main festivals. It has been awarded the Europe for Festivals, Festivals for Europe (EFFE) label for 2019-2020. “We are justly proud of this and year after year we try to present the best elements we can muster. They come both from our islands and well as from faraway Kazakhstan, China, South Korea, Australia, Mexico and the US, and others closer home like Italy, Poland, Belgium and Latvia,” Attard continues.

Speaking of Latvia, the Blagovest Orthodox Choir of Riga will perform twice; one of the concerts will be at Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary which this year marks the fourth centenary of the old Marian image that was originally in the small church that existed on the site of the present sanctuary.

The scale, variety and innovative cha­racter of Gaulitana 2019 makes it one of Gozo’s main festivals

Elaborating further, Attard said “We take the festival all over Gozo, and in future we hope to extend events to Malta as well. One of this year’s most exciting events is what must be the first performance in these islands of all of Paganini’s 24 Capricci, Op. 1. The soloist is Reggie Clews, who will perform them in three sets of eight each, according to the three different periods each set was composed.

“The sets will be performed at three different venues: the chapel of the Franciscan Sisters, the church of St James and the church of St Savina. These are within easy walking distance from one to the other. At the beginning of each set, Julia Camilleri will recite a selection of poems by Mary Meilak.”

Gaulitana 2019 offers much more, such as a number of lunchtime recitals in the ‘Espresso’ series. This includes the Suichang Kunqu Opera and Tea performance, stars of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the Shanghai Expo 2010.

Speaking of opera, the festival ends with the usual opera weekend. However, preceding this are some events worth noting. One is the Miriam Gauci Master Class concluding concert on March 30 at 11am at the Gozo Ministry Hall. The following day, at the same venue, there will be the opening of the exhibition Puccini: the Man and the Artist. Open until April 7, this exhibition is being held in collaboration with the Fondazione G. Puccini of Lucca.

On April 5 at 7.30pm, famed flautist Enzo Caroli features in a concert at the Gozo Ministry Hall, Victoria, and the following day at 11am Cecilia Xuereb will moderate a discussion on ‘Women in Society’. Taking part will be actress Jane Marshall, cultural administrator Catherine Tabone and the Minister for Gozo Justyne Caruana.

Also on April 6 at 6.30pm there will be a pre-opera talk on Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, which is this year’s Gaulitana opera choice. The talk will be at Leone Band Club within the complex that houses the Aurora Opera House.

At 7.30pm Manon Lescaut returns to an opera stage in these islands after an absence of more than 20 years. Soprano Miriam Gauci takes the title role opposite tenor Enrico Ferrer’s Des Grieux.

Baritone Lucio Gallo sings Manon’s cousin Lescaut and bass Luciano Leoni sings Geronte. Lesser roles will be interpreted by Didier Pieri, Clare Ghigo, Joseph Lia and Ken Scicluna. The artistic director is Enrico Castiglione, and the Malta Philharmonic and Gaulitanus Choir will be directed by Colin Attard.

Gaulitana 2019 ends on April 7 with a concert at the church of St Francis of Assisi, beginning at 7.30pm. It features flautist Enzo Caroli performing Karl Stamitz’s Flute Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings among other works. The Gaulitana String Orchestra is directed by Colin Attard.

Admission to all events is free except for the opera Manon Lescaut (booking at Teatru Aurora); The Tea Party (booking at Grand Hotel, Mġarr.); The Ġgantija Temple performance by the Italian ensemble Steelwind Chamber Saxophone Quartet (complimentary tickets to be reserved at the Ġgantija visitors centre.)

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