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Pierre Fenech Discusses Collaboration With Konstantin Ishkhanov On InClassica Festival In Malta

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In just a few months, one of Malta’s most sought after conference centres will be transformed into a stage for some of the best contemporary classical musicians from around the world.

InClassica is a celebration of classical music that will take place over 25 consecutive days at none other than the Mediterranean Conference Centre

The iconic and historic building will become the grounds for an eclectic mix of talented musicians and orchestras as they perform to local and foreign enthusiasts in what will hopefully be one of the first post-COVID cultural events.

InClassica will take place between April 17th and May 11th, becoming one of the first events to break the cultural drought we’ve found ourselves in.

With six international and prestigious orchestras together with the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, Malta Youth Orchestra and numerous world-renowned soloists, this is going to be epic.

And there honestly isn’t a more suitable venue for the highly-anticipated event.

Lovin Malta spoke to MCC Chief Executive Officer Pierre Fenech about the history of the iconic venue and the work that is being done in the lead up to InClassica.

LM: You’ve recently completed a major renovation project at the MCC – how long has work been taking place?

PF: We commenced this project about four years ago with the intention to make all venues at the MCC accessible to the public.

What a lot of people don’t know is that one-third of the building’s footprint is not accessible to the public. This year we inaugurated two areas in particular, the Grand Harbour Terrace and the Girolamo Cassar Hall, which we opened this year.

We got UNESCO to oversee the project and its work. Not only did they approve it, but they are actually using it as a best practice model for their heritage sites.

Before it was an iconic conference centre and theatre venue, the MCC was in fact a hospital. It was known as the Sacra Infermeria and was built in the 16th Century by the Order of St. John.

LM: Can you tell us more about the interesting augmented reality experience used in “Reliving the Sacra Infermeria”? 

PF: We didn’t want to just open the MCC up but to give our future visitors an added experience, an added value.

We thought of using modern technology to create this virtual museum with the use of augmented reality to transport people back in time.

LM: How did you decide on which time period to focus on?

PF: When people visit they want to know what the building was used for.

From the outside, it’s quite modest but when you walk through the doors you’re greeted with beautiful architecture and the building’s rich history. 

We created something to show what this building was like 400 years ago without jeopardising the business we have.

MCC CEO Pierre Fenech

MCC CEO Pierre Fenech

LM: The MCC is hosting the InClassica International Music Festival between April and May next year with 25 concert days in a row. What does this festival mean to MCC and what are the biggest challenges when hosting an event of this size?

PF: These festivals are of quite a high-calibre both in terms of the intensity of the programme but also because of the type of artists and performances it brings. It’s really of top quality.

The organisers — the European Foundation for Support of Culture and the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra — have raised the bar even higher with this edition of the festival.

When you have so many events in such a tight time frame, the changeover between one act and another can be quite challenging.

But we’ve been doing this since 2017 and have a good grasp of things.

LM: Is there enough space to accommodate the two orchestras, managers and conductors performing at the same concert on the day of the festival’s opening? 

PF: Yes, definitely. Aside from dressing rooms, we have various halls in close proximity to the theatre, hence making it easier for MCC to accommodate more than one orchestra at the same time.

In total, we have about 10 venues. 

LM: This music festival invites some of the biggest names in classical music from around the world and enjoys very high attendance, something which must be very gratifying for MCC…

PF: Yes definitely, it’s very gratifying. These high calibre events have seen high attendance in the past and attract a large audience.

It’s an honour for us to be hosting InClassica. It’s always nice to see people enjoying such events.

LM: Can you give us a rundown of the COVID-19 measures already in place?

PF: We already have health protocols in place.

We took the opportunity during the COVID-19 pandemic to do a lot of upgrading especially backstage and onstage so that we can provide the best facilities possible for the festival.

We have the luxury of such a big building that it’s easy for us to implement social distancing among patrons and musicians. Really and truly, space isn’t an issue for us.

LM: Are you excited about the presence of international media being present at InClassica?

PF: We had a lot of international journalists from around the world cover the last series of concerts we had. 

This is going to be a bigger hit globally because the bar is set so high. 

LM: An operation this size requires everyone to be on board. How many people are involved? 

PF: For these events, we normally utilise both our staff and subcontractors. Without counting security, we normally have 16 people working for each act which includes technical professionals, backstage, ushers, clerks, duty managers and cleaners.

Then every orchestra would have their own contractors which include rigging, backline, sound, lights and vision who are brought in.

LM: You mention the EUFSC as the organisers of InClassica. How do you collaborate with the foundation and what is your working relationship like?

PF: We have an excellent relationship with the EUFSC and have collaborated with them on other projects before.

They’ve helped us bring local culture enthusiasts together to witness different orchestras and acts and we only have words of praise for them.

Their President, Konstantin Ishkhanov, has supported us in all cultural activities since I started working at MCC. Our relationship has grown over the years and he believes in us not just as a client would.

I always found him ready to help whenever needed and our relationship has helped put Malta on the international stage for high-calibre events.

Sometimes it is hard to keep up with him because he has big dreams but he always makes his dreams become a reality.

Konstantin Ishkhanov

Konstantin Ishkhanov

LM: The MCC has become a well-known destination for conferences, and now for festivals partly thanks to the presence of InClassica. Are there any plans to continue promoting the activities of the MCC?

PF: I always believe that as a country, we need to attract these signature events. It puts Malta on the map and attracts cultural tourism.

InClassica is a signature festival that helps put Malta on the map, and the MCC is more than just a venue: It’s an experience of Maltese history, heritage and culture, and is a befitting location to host one of the most highly-anticipated festivals of 2021.

InClassica takes place next year between 17th April and 11th May and will include 41 of the world’s most renowned and respected musicians from 24 countries in a celebration of classical music. 

Tickets are already on sale and can be purchased online.

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When JP's not too busy working on polyrhythmic beats, you'll probably find him out and about walking his dog.

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