Date of Birth: 18th October, 1984
Star Sign: Libra
Main occupation: Musician
Alex Vella Gregory is a freelance composer and pianist. His work encompasses a broad spectrum of activities, from performances to teaching, to research and music projects.
He studied piano with Paul Borg and Joanne Camilleri. In 2006, he graduated with a B.Mus at the Ian Tomlin School of Music, Edinburgh Napier University, after having won a scholarship. Alex is currently working on a Ph.D in Composition at the same university.
He’s also involved in several music ventures, including the choir Cappella Sanctae Catharinae, Malta’s only all-male choir for which he is artistic director. He’s also working on L-Għana tas-Sirena, an arts community project with Senglea residents, funded by the Arts Council Malta.
How did you first discover music in your life?
No one in my family is a musician, but I’ve always been exposed to music. My maternal grandfather loved opera, and he could discuss Verdi and Wagner with ease. On the other hand, my maternal grandmother had a more populist approach and she would listen to għana and lots of Italian music. She was also prone to singing, and I used to love all her wartime ditties. Shame I never recorded them!
Then I remember my older sister taking piano lessons, and being the curious annoying little brother, I just had to give it a go. I’ve never looked back since!
Image: Alex Vella Gregory with Soprano Miriam Cauchi in the concert ‘Mill-Qamar sal-Qabar’, February 2015
How do you nurture your musical skills?
Well, studying would be the obvious reply, but I like to go beyond the notes. I like to find out more about the music I’m performing – its historical and social context. I like to listen to a lot of music, whether at live performances or recorded music.
Even though I’m a classical musician by training, I’m more intrigued by popular music. I love the way jazz works, and I love the pure raw emotion of traditional music. Practice is important of course, because you learn to play the notes, but for those notes to become music, that’s where the real challenge lies.
In your opinion, what are the ingredients for world peace?
I’m not sure such a thing exists. I believe that we’re all given the freedom to choose between what is right and what is wrong. The problem is that each one of us has a different perception of what constitutes ‘good’ and ‘bad’. However, it goes deeper than that. It’s not simply a case of different ideologies. Deep inside each and everyone of us lies a biological instinct that pushes us to survive. That is ultimately ruled by fear – fear of not having adequate food or shelter, fear of being left alone, and so forth. It is that fear which pushes us to view any opposing view with suspicion and even hostility.
So, in order to achieve world peace, we need to conquer both our mind and our body. That requires a lot of spiritual strength, and sadly most of us are too busy surviving to care.
If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title should be?
Titles… Always the most difficult thing to come up with! I’d probably choose something along the lines of One Semitone Short of an Octave.
Image: Alex Vella Gregory with the Choir Cappella Sanctae Catharinae and the ensemble Ludus Venti, June 2015
What would you never, ever buy?
Oh, so many things. I would never buy somebody’s affection or respect. I would never pay for favours to advance my career. I would never use money to take shortcuts. I’m a firm believer in work. Whatever you do, you have to work hard for it. I take pride in the fact that I work hard at what I do. My philosophy certainly has not made me rich, but it has certainly made me happy. We may buy comfort and pleasure, but happiness is something you have to work for.
Which is your favourite venue in Malta to perform at?
It’s difficult to choose. I firmly believe that the venue and the music are inextricably linked. I’ve been to wonderful performances of, say, sacred music in modern concert halls, and the venue just wouldn’t work. I always try to adapt my performance to the venue.
Having said that, Malta has some great unorthodox venues. I’ve performed in some wonderful churches (Ħal Għaxaq and Ħal Lija are two particularly fine churches for music), inside fortifications (Fort St Elmo is absolutely splendid!), old palazzi (the ballrooms of the Archaeology Museum and Palazzo Parisio are to die for), and many others.