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Malta Philharmonic Orchestra

Malta Philharmonic Orchestra

Malta International Arts Festival

Programme Note

The Malta Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO), under the baton of Mro. Michael Laus presents a tour de force programme with two national premieres: “Piano Concerto No. 2” (1957) by Dmitri Shostakovich featuring Greek pianist Konstantinos Destounis and “Pacific 231” (1923) by Arthur Honegger - both considered to be seminal works of the 20th century. The first half of the programme includes two compositions by Maltese composers: “Elegy” by Christopher Muscat and “The Forbidden” by Ruben Zahra. The second half of the programme is dedicated to Beethoven's 6th Symphony, known as the Pastoral Symphony. Set in five movements, this is one of Beethoven’s most popular works, filled with beautiful melodies with each movement depicting a different scene from nature.


Arthur Honegger 

Pacific 231 (1923)

Dmitri Shostakovich

Piano Concerto No. 2 (1957)

I     Allegro

II    Andante

III   Allegro

Christopher Muscat

Elegy (2003)

Ruben Zahra

The Forbidden (2008)


Ludwig van Beethoven

Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 (1802 – 1808)

I  Allegro ma non troppo

Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside

II  Andante molto mosso

Scene by the brook

III  Allegro

Merry gathering of country folk

IV Allegro

Thunder, Storm

V  Allegretto

Shepherd's song. Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm

Pacific 231 by Arthur Honegger  

The popular interpretation of this orchestral work is that it depicts a steam locomotive. Honegger explained that he wrote it as an exercise in building momentum while the tempo of the piece slows. He originally titled it “Mouvement Symphonique”, only giving it the name “Pacific 231”, a class of steam locomotive, after it was finished. Honegger was widely known as a train enthusiast, and once notably said: "I have always loved locomotives passionately. For me they are living creatures and I love them as others love women or horses."

Piano Concerto No. 2 by Dmitri Shostakovich 

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No.2 is a gloriously free, wistful creation – particularly in the famous second movement, which guarantees the whole work’s enduring popularity. Shostakovich’s wrote this work as a birthday present for nineteen-year-old son Maxim – himself an accomplished pianist. On either side of the soulful Andante are two vivacious movements, both full of style and an overwhelming sense of fun. The concerto stands miles apart from many of his other works in its sense of freedom and abandon. Written in 1957, four years after the death of Stalin, the Second Piano Concerto is an unrestrained delight from start to finish.

Elegy by Christopher Muscat 

Elegy is perhaps one of Christopher Muscat’s most accessible works and, understandably, one of the most frequently performed both in Malta and abroad. It was originally entitled Dirge and written for horn and piano in 2003 but the work’s popularity led to a number of arrangements (for viola and piano, for cello and piano, for violin trio for organ, for wind band and for full orchestra). The orchestral version, renamed Elegy and dedicated to the December 2004 Tsunami victims, received its first performance in January 2005 by the National Orchestra of Malta under the direction of Michael Laus. Elegy is very evocative of the composer’s typical contemplative compositions particularly in the extended opening solo. When the orchestra joins in with bell-like chords on the harp, the strings introduce the main lyrical theme followed by a short moment of repose before picking up momentum on its way towards the main climax of the work. The work subsides and peacefully fades away.

The Forbidden by Ruben Zahra 

Orchestrated in 2021, “The Forbidden” is the final movement of a chamber cycle composed in 2008 for a theatrical performance portraying the mythological figure of “Pan the Goat-God” within the realm of archetypal psychology. The music is characterised by strong rhythmic patterns in the lower register which set the aggressive tone for the whole piece. Melodic strands surface over the hammering bass ostinato - interrupted by unpredictable rhythmic motives in the higher register. Occasionally the music is contrasted by soft pointillistic textures and complex melodic clusters, reminiscent of Paganini’s Capricci – adding a Faustian brushstroke to the canvas. The music resumes its rhythmic character, pounding the tempo to a frenetic vortex.

Symphony No. 6 in F major (The Pastorale) by Ludwig van Beethoven 

Beethoven was a lover of nature who spent a great deal of his time on walks in the country. He frequently left Vienna to work in rural locales. As the composer said, the Sixth Symphony is "more the expression of feeling than painting". The first sketches of this symphony appeared in 1802. The symphony has programmatic titles; Beethoven remarked, "It is left to the listener to find out the situations ... Anyone that has formed any idea of rural life does not need titles to imagine the composer’s intentions." The Pastoral Symphony was composed simultaneously with his Fifth Symphony and both symphonies were premiered during the same concert in the Theatre an der Wien in Vienna, on December 22, 1808. There was little critical response to the premiere performance, but the work has become one of the central works of the symphonic repertoire. 


Malta Philharmonic Orchestra 

For half a century, the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) has been Malta’s foremost musical institution. The MPO averages more than one performance a week including symphonic concerts, opera productions in Malta and Gozo, community outreach and educational initiatives, as well as various concerts of a lighter nature. During the past seasons, the MPO embarked on a digital transformation reaching over 32 million people worldwide through its online programme in 2021.

The orchestra has performed in leading venues across the world, including in the United States, Russia, Dubai, Germany, Austria, China, Italy, and Belgium, and presently embarks on at least one international tour each concert season. The MPO is a keen exponent of Maltese composers, regularly performing their works in Malta and overseas, as well as frequently premiering and commissioning new compositions. Through the MPO Academy and the Malta Youth Orchestra, which regularly give concerts across Malta, the MPO is also responsible for the training and professional development of the next generation of Maltese musicians.

Michael Laus


Michael Laus graduated in piano, harpsichord, composition, and conducting at the Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi of Milan in 1982. He later participated in masterclasses in conducting given by George Manahan in the United States and Vladimir Delman in Bologna. Principal Conductor of Malta’s national orchestra for 25 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. 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 specialising in the performance of baroque music.

Konstantinos Destounis


Pianist Konstantinos Destounis (born in Athens in 1991) is regarded as one of the most prominent Greek artists of his generation. He has won many international piano competitions, most notably the Grand Prix Maria Callas in Athens, the Southern Highlands in Canberra and the Bremen European Piano Competition. His performing career has led him to venues that include the Royal Albert Hall in London, Opera La Fenice in Venice, Llewellyn Hall in Canberra, Glocke Saal in Bremen and the Athens Megaron. As a soloist he has performed with many orchestras in Greece, the UK, Germany, Spain and Australia. He holds a Doctor of Music degree from the Royal College of Music in London for his research on Theodore Antoniou’s piano works, and his world premiere recording of Antoniou’s complete piano works was released by Naxos in 2018.


Ensemble: Malta Philharmonic Orchestra

Conductor: Michael Laus 

Pianist: Konstantinos Destounis 

In collaboration with Malta Philharmonic Orchestra



Concessions are applicable to senior citizens (over 60 years), persons with disability, students (on presentation of student card), European Youth Card holders, and children between 8 and 12 years. 

Only the Parterre Boxes are accessible to wheelchairs.

Some Boxes and Parterre Boxes have limited visibility, as indicated in the seating plan. These will be sold at a reduced price (Concession not applicable). 

24 June 2023
Teatru Manoel, Valletta
€10 - €20
Audience Level
Other Dates
24 June
Terms & Conditions
Concessions are applicable to senior citizens (over 60 years), persons with disability, students (on presentation of student card), European Youth Card holders, and children between 8 and 12 years.

Only the Parterre Boxes are accessible to wheelchairs.

Some Boxes and Parterre Boxes have limited visibility, as indicated in the seating plan. These will be sold at a reduced price (Concession not applicable).

Malta International Arts Festival

Malta Philharmonic Orchestra

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