Saturday, October 29, 2005:

An extraordinary audience for a unique musical event

Friday evening was a very significant one in the annals of our basilica’s patronage. The glorious list of benefactors that have made St George’s what it is has received a major addition in the person of Richard Vendome, a British musicologist from Oxford, who donated an English pipe organ that he had created from historic older ones, worked on in England, shipped to Gozo, rebuilt on site in the St Michael’s Hall of St George’s basilica and brilliantly displayed in a concert of Baroque music on Friday, October 28, as part of the Festival Mediterraea.

The audience in the St George’s parish centre was quite extraordinary and has never been known to have been so numerous. It packed the combined areas of the hall that holds the organ as well as the large Aula Mons. Giuseppe Farrugia, the lovely cloister and the entrance hall to the Priests’ House on the side of Triq San Ġorġ.

The first organist to sit at the new organ’s double key-board was – and of course could not be other than - Richard himself who performed an number of short compositions by Baroque composers. He introduced each one and explained how they respectively manifested the versatility of the organ and displayed its different pipes and registers.

In one of the final organ comporitions that were performed, Vendome was joined by British organist Colin Good who had performed on the grand piano the previous Sunday. The Oxford Girls’ Choir, who had also performed with Prof. Good on Sunday, sang once again excerpts of Baroque sacred motets. The splendid concert was received with fantastic acclaim by all the people present. It was indeed an honour and a limitless pleasure to have been present at the St George’s new annexe on this day and to attend this concert presented by an inimitable scholar, performer and lecturer.

The audience was headed by the archpriest of the basilica, Mgr Joseph Farrugia, and included Fr George J Frendo who was deeply involved and guided the project from its very beginning. The project is not entirely concluded and other work on the pipes as well as on the wooden case will be done in time for the Organ’s official inauguration during the July festa week as part of the Victoria International Arts Festival.

Prof. Joseph Vella, the basilica’s maestro di cappella and the contact that brought Richard to St George’s, several members of the Chapter of Canons including Can Joseph A Borg who had forked out the money for the restoration of the 17th cent. Baroque organ above the West Door of the basilica, the singular Dr Maria Frendo of the Laudate Pueri Choir and, indeed, “of St George’s basilica”, and many other benefactors of the basilica were also present in an audience that included not only Maltese and Gozitan music lovers but also many from Britain, Germany, France and some Italians as well.

Mrs Sonja Sinclair Stevenson, a special friend and supporter of our cultural initiatives, who is resident in Għarb, represented the United States!

No speeches were made since the inauguration will take place in July. But the gratitude of St George’s basilica to Richard Vendome for his outstanding gift and to his musical-instruments-maker firend David Bolton, who has also worked so hard on the organ and was present for the evening, as well as to others both in England or in Gozo who have collaborated with them was manifest all around.

The official inauguration of the "new" pipe organ is expected to take place on Monday, July 10, 2006, that is within the month-long Victoria International Arts Festival and at the beginning of the annual festa week leading to the second one of Gozo's St George's Days (April 23 and the Third Sunday of July).

Thanks to Richard Vendome and his British co-workers David Bolton and Gordon Curtis as well as the Gozitan side's Joseph and Paschal Grech and so many other collaborators we had, on Friday, an extraordinary musical event which was unique not only for St George's basilica, but indeed for Gozo and the Maltese islands.

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Richard Vendome at the new organ
Richard Vendome at the new organ