The brainchild of Prof. Mro Joseph Vella, Rev. George J. Frendo and his sister Maria, within the wider framework of the Laudate Pueri Choir of St George’s Basilica, the Victoria International Arts Festival has been organised for the past 21 years since 1997.  For five weeks every year in June/July, Victoria joins the festival cities of the world, with artistes and ensembles from all over the world combining to leave their mark on the soul of the island. That is precisely what the Festival in the heart of Victoria, blending drive, professional ethos and the typical Gozo penchant for laid-back charm, has come to signify for an ever-widening network of patrons and admirers hailing from top music centres all over the world down to the cultural-minded visitor and local music lover. Culture makes places distinctive, engendering pride in the local community. It also makes a practical contribution in terms of sustainability, providing employment, encouraging learning and inspiring people to adopt creative and active lifestyles.

In order to ensure best-quality concerts and the most excellent environment both for performance and the hosting of master classes, thus keeping the focus firmly on further artistic development, the organising committee has gone to great lengths in setting up a concert hall fully equipped with the best possible instruments. The majority of the concerts are presented in the Aula Mgr G Farrugia forming part of St George’s Basilica complex in Victoria, Gozo. It can be rightly said that this hall, housing a prestigious model of the famous 1785 Antũnes harpsichord, a British 18th century pipe organ and a Yamaha concert grand piano, is the only concert hall in the Maltese Islands which is fully equipped for any kind of repertoire in the whole music spectrum. These instruments have been acquired by the Victoria International Arts Festival Foundation through donations and sponsorships, most recently the Eco-Gozo Project funding by the Ministry for Gozo, and complement the 18th century Santucci organ housed in the Basilica.

The net beneficiaries of the VIAF have always been the local and foreign patrons, together with local musicians, who are privileged with the golden opportunity of listening to world class performers, with the added bonus of mingling with them during master classes. Strong emphasis is made on up-and-coming musicians who perhaps do not have the desired opportunities in terms of travel for further tuition/master classes, etc. The Festival yearly organises such tuition and master classes in multiple disciplines over a period of 4 weeks in September. This always proves very beneficial. Students not only get excellent tuition from experts in their field, but are also encouraged to perform in chamber music concerts at the end of their respective master class. Most of these students have kept contact with their tutors (both foreign and local) and a few have also furthered their studies abroad with them.

A network of professional relationships is enabled through these contacts and this gives a stronger and more excellent profile to the Festival. Apart from master classes, the Festival programme always includes a Debutants’ Concert and a Composer Speaks event. This is specifically geared towards focusing the attention on promising local musicians by providing them with a platform from where they would have the opportunity to perform to a discerning audience.

The basis of VIAF’s ethos is educational and cultural, and it also focuses on inclusivity.  Our Festival has been the first one the islands to offer a wide range of master classes given by foreign and local experts in the field.  This is of extreme benefit to our students who, given the insularity of Gozo, do not have the exposure and opportunity that students in bigger countries would naturally have. Last year we launched an extremely successful project, namely, a workshop with immigrants, focusing on the power of art to transcend boundaries of race, colour, and religion.  This will once again be happening this year, together with a two-day workshop for children with special needs.

Art exhibitions mounted at Il-Hagar – Heart of Gozo and other venues in Victoria are also in the pipeline.  This year we are very proud to also have a photography exhibition by the experienced Daniel Cilia.  A book in his honour will also be launched in collaboration with the Fondazzjoni Belt Victoria in the GEMS SERIES.  The first in this series was dedicated to Joseph Vella.

All this musical and artistic bonanza would hardly be possible without the close collaboration of a hard-working committee – Fr George Frendo as the new Artistic Director, Maria Frendo as Secretary, and Dennis Xuereb as financial adviser and controller, together with a host of young and energetic helpers in the logistics department. Having been both privileged and honoured to work under the guidance of Joseph Vella, an inspired and inspiring polymath, the committee looks forward to carrying on Joseph Vella’s work in the field of music and the arts in general, to further dream big, and to consolidate the work carried out in the past twenty-one years of VIAF’s existence.

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