Friday, 27 November 2015

Schola Cantorum Jubilate: One of Malta’s best known choirs


by Branislav Stanicek

When it comes to choral music, few will question the fact that the northern European countries have a greater tradition of choral singing than the southern Mediterranean countries. People living in the Mediterranean spend most of their time participating in outdoor activities. In relation to the Maltese archipelago, another potential explanation for this is that there is no record at all of folk songs in our culture. Thus the Maltese attitude towards choral singing was somewhat lukewarm.

This is why, back in the year 2000, it was no easy task to set up a choir of mixed young singers – which has today become the Schola Cantorum Jubilate, today one of Malta’s best known choirs. However, the fact that my sister and current Choir Director, Marouska Attard, was a budding music student helped at the time to pave the way. Schola Cantorum Jubilate’smission is to improve the overall image of choral music and to get more people involved in this delightful world of choral singing. The choir also aims to create opportunities for its choristers to enhance their vocal and musical skills, helping them to develop strong personalities through a sense of belonging, teamwork and commitment.

The choristers are all young people who come from various sectors of society. They came from different professional backgrounds such as accountancy, education, engineering and law, while some of them are still university students. Despite this variety, they are all linked by their passion for music. Their director Marouska Attard – now herself an established singer and a university graduate in music – is an energetic and talented musician who strives for high-quality performances that will entertain listeners. Schola Cantorum Jubilate specialises in sacred polyphony, but the choir also sings other secular genres. Pieces in the choir’s repertoire include works by the masters of polyphonic music: Palestrina, Victoria, Tallis and Byrd and the late Domenico Bartolluci. The classists, Bach and Mozart are also included in the choir’s repertoire together with choral works by contemporary Maltese composers Charles Camilleri, Paul Portelli, Ruben Zahra and Christopher Muscat.

International performances

Over the past fifteen years, Schola Cantorum Jubilate has performed in prestigious venues and delighted many audiences both in Malta and abroad. The choir has performed at St. John’s Co-Cathedral, the Auberge de Castille in Valletta, Palazzo Parisio and at the President’s Palace. As the choir gained experience, they felt that it was worth trying to broaden their horizons and venture abroad. They made their international debut in November 2003, at the “Rencontres Musicales de Méditerranée” Festival in Bastia, Corsica. The choir performed at this festival with musicians from St. Cecilia Academy in Rome and Luigi Cherubini Academy in Florence.

Encouraged by these international performances, Schola Cantorum Jubilate organised a musical-cultural tour to Rome and Assisi. As well as visiting the most popular historical sites, the choir sang ‘Tu es Petrus’ (Perosi) to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during an audience in St. Peter’s Square. They also sang during High Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, as well as at the Basilicas of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome and St. Francis in Assisi. One of the highlights of this tour for the choristers was the opportunity to meet the late Domenico Bartolucci, who was the conductor of the Sistine Chapel’s Choir at the Vatican.

This tour was followed by a tour of Austria, in September 2009, where Schola Cantorum Jubilate sang at prominent venues like St. Stephen’s Cathedral, St. Peter’s Church (Vienna), the Old Cathedral of Linz, Hellbrunn (Salzburg) and the Abbeys of Melk and Göttweig. They also took part in cultural events in the city of Linz, the European Capital of Culture that year. Finally, they took part in the ‘Voices of the World’ event at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. In June 2012, at the invitation of Xagħra Local Council, Schola Cantorum Jubilate visited Chevaigné in France. During their four day stay, they sang at St. Pierre of Chevaigné Parish Church, at Rennes Cathedral and at St. Pierre Parish Church in Mont Saint Michel, as well as making several cultural visits and touring the regions of Brittany and Normandy.

Valletta – 2018 European Capital of Culture

On other occasions, the choir has collaborated with professional musicians and ensembles. To name a few examples, last year they performed Maurice Durufle’s Requiem along with members of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra. They also worked closely with the Maltese composer Ruben Zahra on the Vrbe Nova project. This was an online choir community project celebrating Valletta, the 2018 European Capital of Culture. It involved creating a music video-art projection featuring different choirs. In November 2013, the choir participated in the Malta International Choirs Festival and was given the silver medal award for sacred music. More recently, the choir has had the opportunity to work with the international conductor and famous pianist, Wayne Marshall, performing in a private concert organized by HSBC bank.

Schola Cantorum’s name has become synonymous locally with a yearly event called Carols by Candlelight. The choir has organised this event every year since 2003 and it is now firmly established on the island’s cultural calendar for music lovers – particularly those who enjoy Christmas carols. The Guardian rated this event as one of the best top ten Christmas concerts in Europe. So if you happen to be on Gozo for Christmas, be sure to reserve a place at this event. If you do happen to miss it though, the choir sings at the liturgy during the 11 a.m. mass at Marija Bambina Basilica in Xagħra throughout the year.

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