For its 12th edition the International Spring Orchestra Festival has joined forces with Festivals Malta and the Valletta 2018 Foundation. The much lauded ISOFestival will kick off on Friday 6th April 2018, raising the curtain on nine days of high-quality classical music performances featuring acclaimed international and Maltese artists. Nine concerts in all will take place at the Manoel Theatre, the National Museum of Archeology, Pjazza Teatru Rjal, and the Malta Society of Arts (Palazzo De La Salle), starring soloists, chamber ensembles and orchestras in repertory ranging from Beethoven and the Romantics through Bartok, Stravinsky and Debussy, to eclectic new premieres.

This year’s line-up features big names like the veteran Basque Spanish pianist Joaquín Achúcarro, Mariinsky and St Petersburg Opera singers Yuri Vlasov and Larisa Pominova, and conductor Brian Schembri. Other renowned artists include French pianists Roland Conil and Véronique Muzy, German violinist Hans-Peter Hoffman, Italian composer and conductor Dimitri Scarlato, the Hungarian Somogyi String Quartet, the European Union Chamber Orchestra, the Aquilon Trio and Tyresias Ensemble from London, and the Baltic Neopolis Virtuosi from Poland.

Composer Karl Fiorini, the mind behind the Festival and its Artistic Director, comments: “We believe in the power of music to bring people together and to encourage authentic interaction, and in this spirit we have come up with a perfect recipe that will not fail to delight the senses: good music, magnificent venues, and great company. With this 12th edition of the ISO Festival, we look forward to yet another amazing musical journey that once again will draw together music aficionados, occasional listeners, and visitors from abroad”.

The Festival’s opening concert, to be held at the recently refurbished Manoel Theatre on Friday 6th April, will present a breathtaking programme spot-lighting the world-touring European Union Chamber Orchestra, soprano Larisa Pominova, Bass Yuri Vlasov, and conductor Brian Schembri, who will bring to life Shostakovich’s most profound work, his Fourteenth Symphony.“All my life and all my energies,” he said, “are devoted to the most beautiful thing on earth – the struggle to liberate mankind”. Other works in the programme include Fiorini’s new Pentimenti, a Valletta 2018 Foundation commission, and Honegger’s Second Symphony. We will also have a chance, for the first time in Malta, to listen to a real celesta, brought over from Italy especially for this occasion.

Sir Simon Rattle believes “there’s something very special about Joaquín Achúcarro. There are very few pianists in the world who can get that sound from the piano”. On Sunday 8th April we’ll have a rare opportunity at the Manoel Theatre to hear the master in person, now eighty-five, playing Chopin, Debussy (this year marking the centenary of his death), and Falla’s Hommage à Debussy.

After the weekend, the festival will proceed with a marathon of top music: virtuoso pianists Roland Conil and Véronique Muzy and percussionists Christian Bini and Pierre Quiriny on Monday, championing Bartok’s majestic Sonata for Two pianos and Percussion. Rising Stars concert series, a platform dedicated to young talent and the stars of the future, on Tuesday and Wednesday (admission is free), and the London-based Aquilon Trio’s Maltese debut with Bartok’s Contrasts trio and Stravinsky’s trio version of Histoire du Soldat as well as Khachaturian’s celebrated early Trio and the premiere of Timothy Salter’s Triptych, on Thursday.

Friday 13th April offers two concerts: Ritmi-KA, a group of fifty pupils from St Margherita College Middle School, Cospicua (as Education+ brings three highly-regarded percussionists to work with these students) and the Budapest-based Somogyi String Quartet, which will perform Bartok’s iconic Quartets Nos 2 & 6 and Stravinsky’s Three Pieces written in 1914 – music that an American poet of the time likened to ‘a pale smoke of violin music blowing over the moon’.

The Festival will wrap up on Saturday 14th April with a chamber orchestral concert at the Manoel Theatre at 8pm featuring the London Tyresias Ensemble and the Baltic Neopolis Virtuosi from Poland under the baton of composer-conductor Dimitri Scarlato. The programme features Lutoslawski’s Musique Funèbre, world premieres of new pieces by Fiorini and Scarlato, and Bartok’s timeless Divertimento for strings.

More information is on the ISO Festival’s website. Tickets, ranging from €10 to €30, are available from the booking office of the Manoel Theatre or online. Children aged 15 and under, Malta School of Music students can attend for free. Other students and senior citizens will enjoy a 50% discount.