Proficient on both the Celtic and the Concert Grand Pedal harp, Jacob Portelli has been invited to perform in prestigious events such as State Dinners at the President’s Palace. In 2016, he was personally invited to perform to H.M the Queen of England, Elizabeth II during a Commonwealth event.
The 37-year-old Gozitan also holds a diploma in violin and viola performance. On top of that, he plays bow string and cello, including its Baroque variation. His fascination with music has also led him to explore a somewhat unusual instrument – the psalter, bowed and plucked. It is no surprise that he is in high demand for Church and civil wedding ceremonies, receptions and other events.
A founding member of the Cordia String Quartet and a member of the Valletta International Baroque Ensemble (VIBE), the resident ensemble of the prestigious Valletta International Baroque Festival, Jacob develops historically informed performances. He has recorded a CD of meditative music by the name of Palestrings, featuring choral Renaissance music adapted to strings.
Eve: You play two rare musical instruments – the psalter and the harp. How did you choose them?
Jacob Portelli: In fact, these two instruments are the last ones I have learnt to play. Previously I also studied the violin, viola and cello to an advanced level. Since I am a graduate in Theology, I was always interested in biblical instruments. In the book of Palms, one comes across these two instruments. Both have gone through much mechanical development and only vaguely resemble their biblical forefathers.
Eve: The psalter in Malta is only played by yourself and a cloistered nun. Can you explain this rare instrument?
JP: The Psalter is an instrument that has many more strings than the harp. They are stretched all horizontally in front of you, and since they are not colour-coded, you must be much more vigilant in order to distinguish them correctly and quickly.
While in harp playing we use eight fingers, to play the lyre one uses only the thumbs, plus sometimes the second and third fingers in the right hand. The psalter also differs from the sound of harps, since it resonates much longer and it favours the treble more.
Eve: A highlight from your musical career is surely when you played in London in front of the Queen in Buckingham Palace. Let us know more about this unique experience.
JP: The British Embassy invited the Cordia String Quartet, which I am a member of, to perform during Commonwealth Day in London in the presence of HMS Queen Elizabeth II. It was an honour for us that during our audience with her, she complimented us both on the day’s performance as well as on our CHOGM performance in Malta of some months previously, when we had played for her during a state dinner.
Eve: You are often in the spotlight. Is fashion an important part of your life?
JP: I wouldn’t say that it’s important, but I always present myself decent for the occasion at hand. Though bow-tie and cuffs along with black attire have almost become my uniform, I would tend to describe myself as a shirt-and-jeans sort of person in daily life.
Eve: How would you describe your relationship with money?
JP: I don’t think I would call that a relationship. Thank God I love the jobs I do, since they give me more satisfaction than I ever imagined. It’s nice to earn a living doing the things that I like to do with a passion.