14.11.04 Leone Band in Concert Review NewsPhoto by George Scerri (DOI).

It is a staple annual event in the cultural calendar of the Aurora Opera House and the Leone Band A.D. 1863 who owns and runs the islands’ largest opera venue. The Leone Band in Concert is an annual musical concert in which the band delves into the classical genre, albeit with some twist and variances.  

Posted: 4th November 2014

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It is not the pop concert for which Gozo’s Leone Band has built a name and reputation. In concept, it is the annual concert that every band in Malta and Gozo puts up in turn for the grant of having a lotto office within it. Many of the village bands tied their annual concert to their own Village-day. However, the Leone Band has always held this event in commemoration of a very special occasion, deeply rooted in Christian faith.

It was November 1st, 1950 when Pope Pius XII in Rome, declared as a dogma of faith that Our Lady was assumed into heaven with body and soul. On that day, the Leone band – as the exclusive organizer of the external festivities in honour of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven (15th August) – led the island’s celebrations with a grand open-air concert in Victoria’s main square. From then onwards, until the early 90’s, this concert was held every year in the main square, originally named and known as It-Tokk, later Independence Square. Then, it was transferred indoors inside the Aurora Opera House where it has remained since then, commemorating the special events of 1950 and the islanders’ devotion towards Sant Marija, Our Lady.

At 8.30pm, the Leone Band opened the evening with the popular hymn “Għawdex kollu tbiddel f’ġenna” (All of Gozo became a heaven), in honour of Our Lady. Dr Sarah Grima gave a warm welcome to the audience that graced the stylish opera house and introduced conductor Colin Attard at the helm of Gozo’s oldest band.

The concert opened with James Swearingen’s overture Centuria. The five-and-a-half-minute long overture was performed with the right verve and a sensitive ear to the changes in mood and tempo, rhythms and harmonies as it progressed on from one movement to the next – fast-slow-fast as dictated by the typical ternary form.

Quality and hard work were evident from the start and the commitment with which Centuria was performed was maintained throughout the whole concert. Next in line was the Giampieri’s selection from the opera Il Trovatore. This piece was doubly significant on this occasion. Primarily it celebrated the recent success registered by the Aurora Opera House and its people – hence, the Leone Society itself – in the production of this 4-act Verdi masterpiece. It is customary that the band performs a selection of the opera that would have been produced a few days/weeks before, whenever this is possible. And this year it happened again. However, this selection has added significance in that it is a showpiece not only for the band as a wind-orchestra but also to some soloists, which the band proudly calls its own.

Leone Band in Concert Album GS IconEmotions ran high not only during the joyous Anvil Chorus but also when we heard David Portelli on the trumpet, Jason Camilleri on the flugelhorn, and what were considered as our junior offspring’s until a few years back, Josef Attard on the Bb baritone and Daniel Gauci on the euphonium. Applauses were far more than mere protocol; indeed well deserved.

This year’s concert included another share of opera music, this time; the ballet music from Gounod’s Faust, arranged by Dan Godfrey. This seven-movement piece was quite a different thing than what the theatre audiences are usually accustomed to listen when we speak of opera. Yet Gounod’s graceful and poised marriage of melody and rhythm, aptly intended for ballet music – and the rousing finale – were enough to make the audience fall in love with it.

Although remaining in the classical musical idiom, the concert moved to more contemporary works. Assistant conductor Joseph Debrincat conducted the Leone Band in Jacob de Haan’s Pasadena. This piece in two contrasting movements, composed by the still living Dutch composer was a joy to listen to bringing to the event the refreshing latin-rock swing in the second movement that contrasted with the opera music that preceded it. 

The Leone Band in Concert also had a small, yet exquisite, reserved share for film music. This year, the band chose The Legend of the Glass Mountain, penned by another legend – the great Italian Nino Rota for the 1949 film The Glass Mountain. Irrespective of age or cinema expertise, everyone in the stalls could savor the finesse with which the band interpreted this immortal soundtrack.

Just before the final number, Gozitan poet and historian Charles Bezzina, hailing from Victoria had a very interesting and welcoming presentation to do. On behalf of the Leone Philharmonic Society, President Dr Michael Caruana LL.D. received a fabric banner displaying a red lion, which supporters of the Leone band used to parade around during the street marches in mid-August around the year 1911 – i.e. approximately 95 years ago. Indeed the lion is thematic of the Leone band, so no wonder it found its useful place amidst the Leone band’s street marches. However, the red colour – which is not traditionally associated with the Leone band and Our Lady – comes from the fact that this lion originally intended to commemorate King George V, who in 1911 was King of the United Kingdom, hence King of Malta as well. Dr Caruana thanked Mr Bezzina for the generous donation and its significance and appealed to anyone who might have such memorabilia to come forth and donate them to the Society so that they may be displayed, cared for and appreciated by one and all.

Just then, the Leone band gave a remarkable rendition of the selection from Bernstein’s West Side Story. Conductor and musicians worked tirelessly on this showpiece during the course of rehearsals and indeed, hard work paid off. Our boys and girls, from all the sections – woods, brass, percussions – rose to the occasion to meet the musical demands of Bernstein’s genius. And just as West Side Story, the musical, marked the composer’s apex of commercial and popular success, this concluding piece – including the “Mambo!” cries from the musicians – this selection brought the concert to an exciting end as conductor Colin Attard and his (our) musicians received once more hearty applauses.

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