My visit to Malta and Gozo was everything that I was hoping for, and more. Having never visited Malta before and only knowing one or two musicians from there, I didn't really know what to expect. The two musicians that I did know well were Mark Gauci and George Camilleri. Mark was a student of mine at the RNCM, in fact he was a really outstanding student and magnificent baritone player. He was always totally organised, incredibly polite and highly motivated and therefore it was going to be exciting to see him working on his home patch, now in the role of conductor of his band from Gozo. George I had met several times before and very recently at the RNCM where he came over for the weekend to enjoy the Festival of Brass. I knew George to be an outstanding euphonium player.
And so I arrived on the Thursday into Malta airport. The weather was a luxuriant 20° C, and it was great to leave the cold and grey UK weather behind.
Mark and George met me and we drove to the ferry port to the north of Malta and took the ferry to Gozo, about a 25 minute journey.
Gozo has quite a unique charm about it.
That evening I met with the band for the first time and we rehearsed my pieces for the concert including a duet with George. All went well and Mark was also keen to reassure me that the band would be bolstered by some excellent players from Malta for the concert in the Manoel Theatre, Malta on the Sunday evening.
The next morning i gave lessons from 9am until around 7pm. But, the weather had changed, and there was now an incredibly aggressive and powerful storm with high winds and torrential rain that was set to remain for the next 48 hours. This was to give us some difficulties. At the end of the day our intention was to go to Malta airport to collect my piano player Asta Kvasyte, who was arriving from the Lithuania. The really terrible weather meant that the ferry was in danger of being cancelled, and we would be trapped on the island of Gozo. Also just to add another complication, we had an accident with my euphonium. George, kindly offering to carry my euphonium, slipped and fell outside the band room, sending my Euphonium in a gig bag crashing to the ground ! We went back inside the band room to find that the bell had been very badly dented.
A silence fell over the room ! George's face was a picture!!
One quick phone call to Germany reassured me that in a few days' time I would be able to get a new bell fit on my instrument, and it was still playable as the valves had not been damaged.
We waited two hours for the ferry and changed our plans so that we stayed for the next night in Malta in a nice hotel right by the water's edge. Asta arrived safely and took a taxi to the hotel. On Saturday morning there was a rehearsal in the Manoel Theatre. This is quite an incredible theatre, apparently the second oldest in the world. Entering the theatre was quite an awe inspiring occasion. The band and Mark did very well, and although the acoustic was a little dry, I was certainly looking forward to the concert the next day.
Later in the afternoon I was taken to the Band Club in Hanrun, for my well advertised and incredibly well supported masterclass. In the 2 hours before the class began I was given a guided tour of the very impressive band club, with its illustrious history going back over 120 years. The upstairs rooms were full of presentation and trophy cabinets. It was in very formal occasion, with everyone wearing suits and ties. A formal dress code had been requested for all participants and listeners (not by me!!).
The next 3 hours were extremely enjoyable where I got to work with six very fine brass players. And it was not a 'euphonium only' class, in fact I worked with trumpet and horn players too. The large audience listened intently and responded extremely well.
That night we enjoyed a nice post-masterclass dinner in a restaurant on the Waterfront area of Malta.
By Sunday morning the weather had improved noticeably and we enjoyed a short sightseeing tour, in particular visiting the ancient walled town of Mdina, with its outstanding views and beautifully preserved ancient buildings.
After a short nap in the afternoon it was time to get ready for the concert.
There was a real atmosphere backstage, a real buzz amongst the musicians. Mark had done a superb job in setting up this concert, and in addition to a virtually full house there were many important dignitaries from the island in attendance. This had to be a very special concert.
I was really delighted how everything worked that evening, and the band accompaniment to Harlequin was absolutely ‘on the money'. I felt very good. George also played superbly in the duet ‘Brillante'. It was a real delight and honour to play in this theatre. I also played the beautiful Serenade by Drigo, one of my favourite solos from long ago. I remember hearing John Clough playing this with Black Dyke when I was a teenager. Quite exquisite.
Everyone seemed happy with the evening, and we went back to the same restaurant on the Waterfront after the concert.
I still had a day and a half's teaching to do back on the island of Gozo, and I got to meet another ten very promising young brass students.
It was an exhausting trip, not without its challenges, as you can imagine, especially with the damage to my instrument, but I really enjoyed it.
The people were so friendly and so enthusiastic, and the island quite beautiful.
On the Tuesday morning that I left, Mark met me at the hotel at 6.30am to show me the coastline at DWEIRA Bay. Despite the early start I was delighted to have done it and the photos we took that morning are ones I will treasure for a long time.
I hope to return to Malta in the near future, and continue to work with the Maltese brass players, enjoy the island, and played for the audiences there.
Again a big thanks to Mark Gauci, for his superb organisation, and dedication to music education.