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Bouncing with Beethoven

Illustrator Julian ‘Julinu’ Mallia and animator Malcolm Ricci share some behind-the-scenes secrets about how they brought Beethoven to life for young audiences.

Picture this: a man gingerly enters a house that is haunted by several ill-tempered, yet well-dressed ghosts (because who wants a sartorially challenged spectre, right?). Through the alluring power of Beethoven’s music the character manages to temporarily befriend one of the ghosts – who he also joins in a viola and oboe duet.

It is this whimsical pairing of playfulness and humour with Beethoven’s canonical nine symphonies that characterises Beethoven Forever, a family-friendly multidisciplinary effort that involves actor Chris Dingli interacting with projected animated visuals and Beethoven’s music.

This project was curated by Ruben Zahra, the artistic director of the Malta International Arts Festival, who conducted extensive research on the Beethoven’s symphonies in order to compile a sequence of narratives that are consistent with the musical fabric. Illustrator Julian ‘Julinu’ Mallia and animator Malcolm Ricci brought these to life.

Mallia worked hard to generate charismatic and animatable characters while Ricci then painstakingly brought them to life in sync with the music and with the actor’s live action.

The show is particularly attractive to young audiences thanks to the rich visuals combined with Dingli’s amusing acting style and Beethoven’s memorable symphonies. Mallia rightly points out how “the interaction between a live actor and animated characters is something we don’t see particularly often on Maltese stages”. In fact, besides the artistic output there is an underlying technical aspect that involves meticulous preparation.

Beethoven Forever also features an educational aspect and the excepts were selected by Zahra to portray Beethoven’s innovation in symphonic writing. For instance, the horn trio in the 3rd, the timpani passages in the 4th and 9th and the programmatic references in the 6th. This helps the audience be more aware of the multiple components involved in an orchestral performance.

So how does one go about animating possibly the defining figure in the history of Western classical music? Mallia explains: “The show focuses on the scenes inspired by the music, rather than having Beethoven as a cast member. Having said that, we do see an animated version of his most popular portrait: sporting his characteristic stern face while holding some music sheets. This animated sequence involves the building-up of his portrait, starting with outlines and ending with the painting of details.” To achieve this effect, they had to use a laborious stop-motion technique involving a large number of individually hand-drawn frames.

The event promises to be a fun and memorable introduction to the world of Beethoven. Some symphonies are quite popular but the show also introduces other, perhaps less known, compositions.

To learn more and to book your tickets for the shows on 21 and 24 July, click here.

illustrations by Julian Mallia


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