The Malta Independent 18 June 2024, Tuesday
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Oh! What a lovely concert!

Marie Benoît Sunday, 27 August 2023, 09:00 Last update: about 11 months ago

I managed to make the closing concert of the Malta International Piano Festival organised by Milica Lawrence and regretted missing the other concerts.  She started the Malta Piano Academy in Gozo and has now opened another one in Mosta where she has many more students than in Gozo. It is people like Milica who keep the musical world going round.

 

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The Festival was held at the Palazzo de La Salle, Malta Society of Arts, in Valletta. The palazzo itself has a most interesting history. Over the years it has had many renovations. It is certainly worth a visit in its own right. You would not guess at the beauty inside just by seeing the concert hall which is modern. There is so much more including wine cellars (sans wine but used) and a beautiful chapel.  Much has been ruined in Malta but there are still pockets of beauty which thankfully remain. This is one of them.

The concert title was Dance in Music. Out of twelve pieces played three were dances.

The programme did not rely on the great war horses like Brahms, Grieg, Bártok which were on the programme, but introduced us to composers which are not so well known. I am conservative when it comes to music, I have to admit, and I can hardly suppress a yawn when I see names I haven't heard of before on a programme. But, to my utter surprise I loved every single one of the twelve pieces played that evening. Given the chance I could easily have spent another hour, listening to these three gifted pianists play. Excellence takes time and commitment and especially in music. That evening the music-making seemed to spill off the stage and embrace the audience. One felt very much part of it, such was the ambience created by the pianists who sat in the audience.

The ambience was relaxed and intimate. I would guess that every single one of those present last week was a music lover. To get to Palazzo de La Salle one has to go by taxi. Trying to find a parking space leaves you exhausted and you arrive in a bad mood. At least I do. So only those who really want to listen to live music would bother taking a taxi and attending.

 

Albert Storace was commentator. In this case it was particularly essential as a handful of composers were new to most people present and certainly to me. So, Albert, who had done his homework, gave us an idea and in a few sentences, a background to the composers and their work.

I had never heard of Stevan Stojanovic Mokranjac, Rikard Nordraak, Miguel Manzano or Armando Ghidoni and was happy to be given some information about them, which of course I've forgotten.

 

The pianists were three, all extremely well qualified and well-travelled: Sandra Stojanovic, born in Belgrade and who now lives and works in Italy;   Bojana Sovilj, who was also born in Belgrade who lives and works in Oslo and Milica Lawrence, born in Serbia,  who is doing great work here and in Gozo.  All three pianists played as if they were enjoying every minute at the keyboard. Their affection for music-making was obvious throughout the recital. We had soloists, duets and even two pieces for six hands. They looked a little squashed on those piano stools but played Gounod's Marche Funebre d'une Marionette with charm. The only temporary distraction were Sandra's sparkling and elegant sandals. She lives in Italy so there is the answer.

 

All three of them also played Johan Svendsen's Fest Polonaise op 12 for six hands, with panache. I loved this piece. One of my favourite pieces that evening. Also Armando Ghidoni's Ballade d'une Femme for solo piano played by Sandra with warmth and real poetic feeling. The sort of music I like best, reminding me of Chopin and John Field's Nocturne.

 

There were Norwegian dances for four hands by Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), Norway's most famous musical son. He concentrated his efforts on learning about traditional folk music. Gradually these melodies became an important part of his own compositions, with many of his works containing soaring tunes that evoke his Norwegian home.

He was given an honorary degree by Cambridge University in 1894. Straight after the ceremony he rushed to the post office and sent a telegram to a friend, a physician in Bergen who shared his surname. He signed his telegram 'Dr Grieg'.

 

Milica played Romanian Folk Dances for solo piano by Béla Bártok. Bartok wrote music that was far more Hungarian-sounding than the music of the famous Franz Liszt. Hungarian folk music became the abiding passion of Bártok's life. Together with his great friend and fellow composer Zoltán Kodály, Bartok criss-crossed the country, gathering recordings of authentic Hungarian tunes on a primitive machine, which imprinted the sounds on wax cylinders. How is that for perseverance. The meticulous records these two composers kept preserved music  which would otherwise have been lost.

More duets: three Hungarian dances by Brahms  including my favourite, No 5 played by Sandra and Milica. Brahms would have loved their playing.

(There was more music but I need space for photos.)

 

This is a kind of music making evening one had thought belonged to a bygone age in these days of jet setting, virtuoso conductors and massive audiences. More like a salon or what I would imagine a salon would have been like.

I don't think music serves any essential function other then giving aesthetic pleasure. But isn't aesthetic pleasure a very important part of our existence? I fail to see how you can live without music.

 

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