Date of Birth: 5th August, 1975
Star Sign: Leo
Occupation: Organ Restorer
After graduating in Electrical Engineering from the University of Malta in 1997, Robert Buhagiar trained in organ building and organ restoration with the renowned Mascioni firm in Italy, specialising in the restoration of Italian organs. Robert has been locally active in this field since 1999, and has to date restored over 22 pipe organs and also relocated various organs from churches in other countries to Malta, most notably the three-manual concert organ at Balluta Parish Church, the 1774 Neapolitan organ at Mdina Cathedral, the 1885 Mosta Dome organ, and the famous 1754 Lo-Bianco organ at Wignacourt Museum.
Some of his restored organs have been recorded and are featured in two commercially available CDs by Priory Records (UK) and Advitam Records (France). He’s been a member of the International Society of Organbuilders since 2003.
As an organ restorer, how have you been involved in this year’s Malta International Organ Festival?
My involvement in this and in the two preceding festivals has been indirect. However, since many of the organs featured in the Festival have been restored by me or are under my care, I’m involved to the extent of making sure the organs are in excellent condition, and I advise the organisers and the performing artists on the characteristics of particular organs.
Being an organ restorer in Malta is not a common job. Do you feel you have enough space and opportunities to spread your skills wings in Malta?
Like any other situation in life, there are pros and cons. Of course, Malta has significant limitations as to the type, era and style of organs present in its territory. However, for such a small country, the island is rich in having a strong and wide concentration of Italian organs, ranging from Baroque to Modern/Eclectic, and these are the type of organs on which I focused my training and expertise. Malta’s relatively small size can actually be an advantage. In a relatively small area, one finds a wide range of different styles of Italian pipe-organs. An Italian organ professor loves to hold organ masterclasses here – on organs which I’ve restored – because he can demonstrate to his students various and widely different Italian organs, all in fine condition, and very importantly, all reachable within an hour’s drive at most… except in rush hour traffic.
During your studies you acquired knowledge of correct restoration principles, ethics and procedures, as well as a substantial cultural knowledge of the Italian organ patrimony. In what area do you feel you need to make the most effort to be disciplined in this field?
It’s the area of respecting the work of the original organbuilder, and not attempting any modifications or modernisation of a pipe-organ without serious and well-informed considerations. Though tiny details – such as the thickness of leather used in the restoration – are important, the most ethical considerations refer to whether an organ is respected for what it is, hence accepting its strengths and limitations, or whether one attempts to rebuild it into something different. The danger here is that the precious original might get lost while nothing artistically better is created. We’re not the owners of these pipe-organs. We are merely making use of them whilst preserving them and passing them on to future generations.
If you had to promote organ restoration to students, what would you say?
Organbuilding and restoration requires passion, determination and humility. But this trade is not an end to itself and its promotion should not be as such. It’s there to serve and satisfy a need. If I were to promote anything, I’d promote the organ as a musical instrument. More people might enhance their artistic enrichment in life through discovering what an organ is, its different types and styles, and the artistic potential in both the instruments themselves, as well as the repertoire available for this instrument. The need for carefully executed organ restoration then comes as a by-product.