Top local composer Ruben Zahra is renowned for also creating innovative musical events, and the next one is on this week.
The name Ruben Zahra is synonymous with music in Malta, and he is doubtlessly one of the island’s leading composers, producers and cultural entrepreneurs.
Ruben’s career has certainly been varied, and he has enjoyed numerous career highlights and has had opportunities to present his work – and represent Malta – on international festival platforms. Beyond that, he also spent two years living in Hollywood, where he worked in the film industry as a music editor and composer. “I’ll be honest, I hated Hollywood,” he tells me. “But it was a great learning curve and a catalyst that helped me understand the direction of my work.”
Most recently, Ruben has been dedicated to developing Modern Music Days – a project committed to promoting the performance and understanding of 20th century repertoire and contemporary music in Malta.
One of the events that forms part of the MMD agenda is Tehillim, a one-off event this week that will see top Czech conductor Pavel Snajdr and members of the Brno Contemporary Orchestra fly in to work with the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra at the beautiful Manoel Theatre in Valletta on 9th June. It is part of the Valletta 2018 programme.
“The music we selected for Tehillim – 20th Century Masterworks has never been performed in Malta before, even though each work is a 20th century classic,’ Ruben says. “‘Concerto for 13 instruments’ by György Ligeti is one of the most beautiful, engaging and important chamber works of the 20th century; Tehillim by Steve Reich is a masterpiece of minimalist music; Britten’s ‘Sinfonietta Op. 1’ is a prodigious work written when the composer was just 18 years old; Octandre by Edgard Varèse sounds as radical and avant-garde as when it was written, almost a century ago.
“I believe the Maltese public (and our international visitors) should be exposed to this music in the same manner as it should be exposed to the paintings of Picasso and Miro… or the architecture of Renzo Piano. This repertoire constitutes an unbroken line between Vivaldi and Varèse… Rameau and Reich. I often feel that Malta has missed out on the music of the 20th century. This concert helps to set the records straight.”
And, once Tehillim is over, music lovers may wish to consider Ruben’s next major event – Parade and the Velvet Gentleman, which will also take place at the Manoel Theatre, this time on 27th July. “The highlight of this project is an update of the ‘Parade’ ballet, which first premiered in 1917 by Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. My new version of ‘Parade’ revisits the ballet with innovative media techniques, such as stop-motion animation and video-art. The result is an exciting family-friendly performance.”
Meanwhile, Ruben also plans to attend a number of culture events this summer. “I’m looking forward to the Malta International Arts Festival programme; it’s a great showcase of local and international talent,” he says.
Finally, he gives his recommendation for the perfect day in Malta. “I’d be up at 7am and heading for my latte at my regular café in Naxxar, and would then start composing at around 8:30am. The rest of the day would pan out normally, in a flurry of Skype meetings, emails, articles and mail shots, but I would stop for a swim at 5pm and relax by the sea till 7pm. Then it would be dinner somewhere by the water’s edge… and an evening of Netflix until bed!”