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National orchestra records for Naxos

The Malta Philharmonic Orchestra. Photo: Jason Borg

The Malta Philharmonic Orchestra. Photo: Jason Borg

A recording by the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra’s (MPO) of three of Charles Camilleri’s works will be on sale in music stores and websites the world over in a few months’ time. The project is part of the build-up to Valletta becoming the European Capital of Culture in 2018. It will be the MPO’s first recording with one of the biggest classical music labels in the world, Naxos, and will give the orchestra a huge boost in placing it on the international map.

I meet the effervescent conductor Miran Vaupotich a few hours after he has finished an intensive three-day recording session with the MPO. Vaupotich is charming and amiable and effuses that zealous passion for life frequently present in many musicians. Indeed, throughout the course of our conversation, passion for what one does emerges as a key theme for both the MPO’s success as well as Vaupotich’s rapport with his orchestras.

This recording came about following a chance encounter between Vaupotich and MPO chairman Sigmund Mifsud. Vaupotich was “immediately touched” by Mifsud’s fervour and vision and they quickly set about making plans for the Naxos recording and later, for the MPO to tour China.

Vaupotich confides how although he has conducted orchestras the world over, few if any have heard of the MPO. Yet he is optimistic and says that the recording, coupled with a hardworking chairman such as Mifsud, is potentially the start of an incredibly bright future for Malta’s national orchestra.

To begin with, the Naxos recording aims to promote Maltese music and the orchestra across the world. In keeping with Naxos’s preference to focus on one composer, three of Charles Camilleri’s works have been recorded. “The choice,” explains Vaupotich, “was such as to present a variety of styles pertinent to Camilleri.” He goes through the three pieces, giving some detail about each one.

The famous Malta Suite is a traditional composition and a good orchestra showpiece in which one can recognise elements of Maltese dance and folk influences.

The Piano Concerto No 1 is a wonderful example of how the composer shows his influence of the Mediterranean Sea. The folk element is taken one step further here in that you can “feel the personal touch of the composer and his own sense of music”.

The third and final piece is the Accordion Concerto which is very different in style to the other two. Firstly, the accordion is an unusual instrument and is used to play a composition very modern in style and completely contemporary in its language. “This makes the album most exciting,” enthuses Vaupotich, stressing how this is the first international recording of this concerto. He hopes this is just the beginning of a series of recordings of both Camilleri’s and other Maltese composers’ works.

We discuss the recording process and how Vaupotich worked with the orchestra. The music was recorded in the main hall at the Mediterranean Conference Centre in Valletta. Although some may see the fact that a recording studio was not used, Vaupotich saw this as an advantage: “Classical musicians like to be involved in a natural space,” he says. “A studio is fake and the sound produced is dry. The MCC was the right space for this project.”

Despite having worked with the MPO earlier this year (at the Mixjietna concert in May), the conductor does admit that this was not enough to get to know all the musicians. However, the musicians were all “really warm and easy to get on with.”

The social aspect in the music world is incredibly important to Vaupotich. It comes as no surprise then that Vaupotich feels an incredible amount of pressure each time he gets in front of an orchestra – even though he has conducted more than 30 orchestras the world over.

Vaupotich also gives a lot of importance to being well-prepared before conducting and also to have vision. For the Camilleri recording, his vision was “to present the music as it is, to be faithful to the composer. I want anyone who plays the CD to feel the Maltese air and its culture.”

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