Ruben Zahra has built a name for himself as one of Malta’s most pioneering composers, and he stops at nothing to bring dynamic projects to the local scene. He chats to Jo Caruana about his latest endeavour, Rhythms of Vision.
Even if you don’t know Ruben Zahra by name (and most of you will), you are almost certain to know his work, which has set him apart many times over the years. Recent highlights include the Kirana children’s opera project, which has toured in 10 different countries over the past two years, his work reviving traditional local music with the Nafra ensemble, and his original soundtrack for the award-winning film Simshar.
Ruben is also at the helm of Malta Music Days (MMD), a project that is capturing attention by promoting the performance and appreciation of 20th-century repertoire and contemporary music in Malta. “The project seeks to connect composers and musicians with other artists, thus creating the opportunity for interdisciplinary expression,” he says.
Besides connecting contemporary music to different art forms, MMD has held events like interactive workshops for children, so as to introduce the next generation of audience members to the genre.
Similarly, there have been workshops and concerts for wider audiences, including last year’s Bandli, in collaboration with the Malta International Arts Festival, which saw the set up of a large, interactive swing structure in St George’s Square, Valletta.
“Each swing is equipped with a motion sensor so that music is triggered through the swinging action. The whole structure functions like a music ensemble that is brought to life through the interactive engagement of the public,” Ruben says with a smile, recollecting how popular the project was. “We wanted to take music out of the concert hall and take it to the people, and we were thrilled with the results and the reactions.”
Now, Ruben will present the latest MMD project – Rhythms of Vision, a one-off concert that connects 20th-century repertoire and contemporary music with the visual arts. “Each piece in this programme has been assigned to a video artist, who has created a visual backdrop for the live musical performance,” he says.
“Even as a composer myself, I have always been intrigued by dialogue between music and the visual arts, so this event will venture into both territories.
Organised by the Manoel Theatre in collaboration with the Valletta 2018 Foundation and the Malta Association for Contemporary Music, Rhythms of Vision will include 10 pieces written by Maltese, Japanese, French, German-Argentinian, Dutch and American composers, to visual work by Maltese, Dutch, Polish and Ukrainian artists, making this concert a truly international work of art.
The event will feature the music of composers John Galea, Karl Fiorini, Charles Camilleri, Mauricio Kagel, Olivier Messiaen, Shoichi Yabuta, Makiko Kinoshita, Michael van der Aa, Scott McAllister and Zahra himself.
Visual artists Ritty Tacsum, Jean Pierre Gatt, Vince Briffa, Nigel Baldacchino, Aleksander Janicki, Leta Shtorr, Patrick Fenech, Trevor Borg, Ruben Zahra and Michael van der Aa will be creating the accompanying work.
The musicians performing all 10 pieces on the night will be Godfrey Mifsud on the clarinet, Nadine Galea on the violin, Simon Abdilla Joslin on the cello and Tricia Dawn Williams on piano.
The work of Dutch composer Miche van der Aa and Japanese composer Shoichi Yabuta both come with their own video. The eight other music compositions in the programme have been assigned to eight visual artists specifically of the event.
Rhythms of Vision will feature eight new videos by local and foreign artists that will portray a visual narrative to the music performance.
Ruben believes that interdisciplinary expression is an important reference for today’s contemporary art scene. “We see visual artists venture into sound and music through installation art and video art. We also have composers and musicians who engage with aesthetic attributes, especially in opera and music theatres. I am personally very interested as a composer to work with video art… not as a cosmetic accessory but as an integral part of the work, contributing an aesthetic narrative to the music.
As for the style of the event itself, Ruben believes it will interest anyone with a love of the visual arts or music. “This is made for the curious public,” he says. “It’s ideal for those interested in discovering new forms of expression, and those eager to experience something new and innovative.”
Finally, Rhythms of Vision will also include an educational element as, on February 8, some of the artists and composers involved will present their work at the University of Malta in collaboration with the Department of Digital Art and the Music Department, to students, fellow artists and any interested members of the public.
Rhythms of Vision takes place at the Manoel Theatre, Valletta, on February 11 at 8.30pm. Tickets are available online.