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Photo by Daniel Cilia

Independence Day Concert
21 September 2020

The MPO and Festivals Malta present Il-Kunċert tal-Indipendenza, under the distinguished patronage of the President of the Republic of Malta.

The Verdala Palace in Siggiewi host a unique interdisciplinary production artistically directed by Ruben Zahra. MPO Resident Conductor Michael Laus leads the orchestra in a number of renowned classics.

The online concert features also two works by local composers, Camilleri’s Court Dances from Malta and the national premiere of Zahra’s Taqbida. Violinist Stefan Calleja joins the fray for Heifetz’s arrangement of Estrellita.


Ruben Zahra Taqbida

Charles Camilleri Court Dances from Malta

Manuel Ponce/ Jascha Heifetz Estrellita

Béla Bartók Rumanian Folk Dances

Ennio Morricone: Deborah’s Theme

Rodion Shchedrin Carmen Suite Selection


Artistic Director:

Ruben Zahra 



Michael Laus 

BÉLA BARTÓK - Romanian Folk Dances

I Jocul Cu Bâtă (Stick Dance); II Brâul (Sash Dance); III Pe Loc (In One Spot); IV Buciumeana (Dance from Bucsum); V Poarga Românească (Romanian Polka); VI Mărunțel (Fast Dance)


“Romanian Folk Dances” was originally composed in 1915 for solo piano as a suite in six short movements based on Romanian tunes from Transylvania, originally played on fiddle or shepherd's flute. Bartók later orchestrated the suite for an ensemble of 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns and strings. Bartók’s “Romanian Folk Dances”, along with many of his other works, have given credence to music that may otherwise have been lost. In his later compositions the folk idiom was so ingrained in Bartók’s style that he could invent his own rhythmic and melodic content, but in this early work he stays true to the music he collected.

MANUEL PONCE - Estrellita (Little Star), arrangement by Jascha Heifetz

solo violin: Stefan Calleja

Manuel Ponce (1886–1948) was the leading Mexican musician of his day who transformed his country’s concert music and informed the study of its folk music. “Estrellita,” set to Ponce’s own lyrics, is his best known work. When violinist Jascha Heifetz was on tour in Mexico City in 1923, he needed a Mexican piece for his program. He heard “Estrellita” in a café, took napkin-notes, arranged it when he got back to the hotel, and performed it that same night. Operating with the same modus Vaughan Williams and perhaps even Béla Bartók, Ponce used Mexican folk music of Spanish origin as the basis for art music in a romantic vein.


The up-beat character of this composition stems from a syncopated bass pulse (3+3+3+3+2+2) that is evident throughout the work. This obsessive bass line is often challenged by irregular material in the higher register which creates a contrast to the rhythmic ostinato. Another important character of this work are the percussive clusters in the lower register which jolt the music erratically. Half way through the piece, the music unleashes unruly melodic fragments featuring fast virtuoso patters, runs, shrieks and shrills. This fragmented melodic character is picked up again towards the end of the piece in a cadenza, leading the music to an explosive finale.

ENNIO MORRICONE: Deborah’s Theme

“Deborah’s Theme” comes from the soundtrack to the movie “Once Upon a Time in America”, the final collaboration between Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone. “Deborah’s Theme” features one of Morricone’s most beautiful melodies, which energes from of a B pedal note on lower strings. In the movie, this theme is first heard when the two protagonists, Noodles and Deborah barely teenagers, share an intimate moment reading the “Canticle of Canticles” from the Old Testament.

RODION SHCHEDRIN - Carmen Suite (selection)

I Introduction; II Dance; IV Changing of the Guard; VII Second Intermezzo;

IX Torero


Shchedrin wrote the “Carmen Suite” in 1967 as the music for a one-act ballet at the Bolshoi. It is an amazing document of the composer’s phenomenal mastery of orchestration. Without altering the musical material, Shchedrin transformed Bizet’s music by varying rhythms, colours and orchestration. The palette of sonorities that he created is astounding.

Michael Laus

Michael Laus graduated in piano, harpsichord, composition, and conducting at the Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi of Milan in 1982. He later participated in master classes in conducting given by George Manahan in the United States and Vladimir Delman in Bologna.


Principal Conductor of Malta’s national orchestra for twenty-five years and now its Resident Conductor, he has conducted the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra in symphonic concerts both in Malta’s main concert venues and on tour in Belgium and Italy. He has conducted several opera productions which include the Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy, Die Zauberflöte, L’Elisir d’amore, Lucia di Lammermoor, Rigoletto, La Traviata, Otello, Falstaff, La Bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly,  Gianni Schicchi, Roméo et Juliette, Werther, Pagliacci and L’amico Fritz, as well as lesser-known titles such as Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto and Nino Rota’s La note di un nevrastenico. His performed repertoire includes the major symphonies of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Handel’s Messiah, the Mozart and Verdi Requiems, Jenkins’ Mass for Peace and other works from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries with several first performances of works by contemporary composers. In July, 2016, he conducted the first European performance of Arvo Pärt’s Greater Antiphons, in the composer’s presence, and in November 2016 he conducted a highly acclaimed performance of Verdi’s Requiem. He opened the first edition of the Valletta International Baroque Festival in 2013 with Vivaldi’s Quattro stagioni together with Carmine Lauri, and the second edition with Handel’s Messiah. Other soloists with whom he has collaborated include Katia Ricciarelli, Cecilia Gasdia, Joseph Calleja, Brigitte Engerer and Andrea Griminelli, while he also works regularly with his wife, the soprano Miriam Gauci.


Michael Laus has guest-conducted prestigious orchestras such as the Bournemouth Symphony, the Slovak Philharmonic, the New Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Belgrade Philharmonic, the Orquesta Sinfonica de Asturias, the Berne Symphony Orchestra, L’Orchestra Sinfonica di Pesaro, the Sibiu Philharmonic Orchestra, the Moldavian Symphony Orchestra and the Croatian Chamber Orchestra. He has appeared as music director in operatic productions at the Berne State Theatre and in Oviedo. He regularly appears in the double role of pianist/harpsichordist and conductor in a concerto repertoire ranging from baroque to twentieth-century works. In this double role, he has won international critical acclaim for his recording of Cyril Scott’s Harpsichord Concerto. Future engagements include Jenkins’ Mass for Peace in May 2019, at the Mediterranean Conference Centre.  


Michael Laus has recorded works for the piano and orchestra as well as orchestral music on CD, which have been released on Discover International, Unicorn-Khanchana and Cameo Classics labels. He has appeared on Rai 3, France 3 and Mezzo television channels. He is Associate Professor in Music Studies at the University of Malta. He was the founder and first music director of the Malta Youth Orchestra, and also the founder and director of the Goldberg Ensemble, a choral and instrumental group specializing in the performance of baroque music.


21 September 2020

TVM & Online



No Intervals


Conductor: Michael Laus

Musicians: Malta Philharmonic Orchestra





Artistic Director: Ruben Zahra

Video Production: Three Wise Men Studios

Director of Photography: Rodney Gauci

Recording Engineer: Sergio Costa

Mixing Engineer: Jan Košulič

CHARLES CAMILLERI - Court Dances from Malta

In around 1807 Edward Jones, harp master and bard to the Prince of Wales, published a collection of scores entitled: “Maltese Melodies or National and Dances – usually performed by the Maltese Musicians at their Carnival and other Festivals”. This collection was discovered by Profs. Godfrey Wettinger in 1986 at the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford and passed on to Charles Camilleri who later orchestrated and arranged the transcriptions for various formations. Some of the melodies have also been used in Camilleri’s opera “The Maltese Cross”.