Supporting Research

A man for All Seasons

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In last week’s blog Four Seasons for Brain Research RIDT CEO Wilfred Kenely speaks about the relationship between art and fundraising for research. This week we feature internationally acclaimed violinist Carmine Lauri who will be the soloist for this concert to be held on Sunday 27th March.  Carmine Lauri’s name is synonymous with the violin, but in this interview with Alex Vella Gregory we discover there’s also reel tape and wooden spoons! (Article feature in the Sunday Circle, February 2016)

Carmine LauriIt all started with wooden spoons. Actually, there’s a little bit more than that: wooden spoons and a very musical family. As a tiny tot, Carmine Lauri wanted to join in the weekly music making at home (weekly music making…what a luxury!), and so he picked up two wooden spoons. Most kids would do the obvious thing, and turn every reachable surface into a drum. But instead Carmine Lauri promptly put one spoon under his chin and started fiddling away.

Carmine Lauri needs very little introduction. He is one of the top Maltese musicians of his generation, a violinist who performs regularly with some of the best orchestras around, and a consummate artist whose performances have received great acclaim. But perhaps Carmine Lauri’s best quality is his humanity.

Even though he has years of music making behind him and has made a name for himself abroad, he remains wonderfully down-to-earth. Despite all those years of working in the highest echelons of music-making, he has maintained a fresh approach to music.

People sometimes struggle to understand what the life of a musician is like. True, the thrill and magic of the stage forms an important part of it, but it is a life of great sacrifices. Very often, one is constantly on the go, and has to adapt quickly and constantly to different environments. ‘I lead a very hectic lifestyle, and what I look forward to most is time out at home.’

Being an orchestra leader also has its pressures, and its rewards. An orchestra leader is an important point of reference for the whole orchestra, and a vital connection with the conductor. There is a great responsibility not just on a musical level but also on a human level. On top of that, it’s the orchestra leader who gets all the important (and difficult) violin solos in a piece. It is no easy task, but Lauri is the perfect man for the job, with his blend of musicality, common sense, and a sense of humour.

‘To err is human,’ it has been said. Watching an artist perform on stage can sometimes make us forget that deep down these are human beings like us, and that occasionally things can go wrong. ‘Do things ever go wrong?’ I ask Carmine Lauri. He’s at a loss from where to begin.

‘A fairly recent one was actually my fault. During a performance of Stravinsky’s Petrushka with the LSO and Valery Ghiergiev, I happened to be sitting as co-leader on the front desk and during the concert I accidentally turned two pages at once for my colleague who was leading, and we both came in crashing playing loudly for a few bars while the rest of the orchestra were playing simple pizzicato notes!’

There was also the time he was playing Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6 with the LSO, under Sir Colin Davis’ direction, and he was playing on a Stradivari violin he had just borrowed for a few years. Carmine Lauri got somewhat over-enthusiastic, and the E-string snapped halfway through the performance. Of course, it wasn’t the first time he had changed a violin string mid-performance, but in his haste the peg flew out of the violin neck and landed somewhere in the flowers in front of him. Between frantically searching for the peg, and holding on to the Stradivarius like his life depended on it, he missed the entire first section of the symphony.


Sometimes keeping your playing fresh is extremely difficult. Just think of the poor folks at the Vienna Philharmonic who every year have to play The Blue Danube and the Radetzky March for the New Year’s Day concert. I get nauseated just by watching 10 seconds of it, let alone having to play it every single year. ‘I would not have lasted long in my career if every time I played a Brahms symphony I always played the same fingerings and bowings year after year,’ says Lauri.

So how does he approach a work like Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, ostensibly one of the most performed works in the classical canon? Carmine Lauri will be performing it in Malta on the 27th of March, and I’m curious how he prepares for such a concert. ‘So many interpretations have been presented to the worldwide public, some rather eccentric and I try to find a fair balance whenever I perform them.’ says Lauri. ‘I am not one to experiment to such an extent that I end up destroying what was originally written, and am not too much in favour of such interpretations.’ For Lauri, it’s about finding the right balance between respecting the original and giving it a new lease of life.

With a composer like Vivaldi, that is no easy task. Vivaldi’s music makes great use of repeated patterns and sequential passages, and can very easily sound dull in the wrong hands. Several critics and musicians have had a go at Vivaldi, including Stravinsky who considered him a ‘a dull fellow who could compose the same form so many times over’. Lauri begs to differ. He believes that Vivaldi has a lot to offer, and I would tend to agree with him.

However, composers like Vivaldi, or even specific works like The Four Seasons, tend to eclipse a vast and sadly neglected repertoire. How many of us have heard Cesar Franck’s Symphony in D minor? Or even Ibert’s Escales? Carmine Lauri also singles out Suk’s Asrael Symphony, a work which Lauri considers ‘one of the most difficult’ he has ever performed.

Classical music is going through an interesting transformation. The digital age has made the dissemination of classical music easier to manage, and has put it on an equal footing with other musical genres in terms of distribution. All the ‘unknown’ works Lauri has mentioned are easily available on YouTube, therefore all you need to do is just log on and click away. There is also a broader definition of classical music, and composers and musicians alike have embraced this diversity. ‘Classical music will always have a future,’ asserts Lauri confidently. ‘It’s rich, it’s a treasure, it’s probably the most understood languages without words.’

True, the rapid developments in music recording technology has revolutionised the way we experience music, and although Carmine Lauri is confident that recordings can never replace live performances, he does have a little music tech confession to make. ‘I have a very strange passion that started since before I could even walk and that’s for reel to reel tape recorders’ confesses Lauri. ‘I have a fascination for them and have collected quite a few of them, some very professional ones and some very vintage and am surrounded by all sorts of different brands of tape at home, probably have around 500 reels of tape and around 11 tape machines.’Poster 4 seasons Carmine Lauri

His interest is not a simple fascination with old machines, but a very active involvement in his hobby. Carmine Lauri often does all the repairs himself, which is both admirable given that classical musicians are not usually associated with music technology, and also rather ironic given that he was then defeated by an 18th century Stradivarius peg mid-performance.

Carmine Lauri is strong advocate of keeping an active healthy mind, and is suspicious of
our dependence on social media. For him, whether he is at work or relaxing at home, keeping mentally active is extremely important. Lauri is therefore honoured and proud to be performing as part of the University of Malta’s  Brain Awareness Campaign. His upcoming Malta engagement is in fact organised by the Research, Innovation and Development Trust (RIDT) within the University, and it is a fundraising concert to help with research funding in mental health issues.

Carmine Lauri plays ‘The Four Seasons’ will be held on Sunday 27th March at 19:30 at St Publius Parish Church Floriana. This concert is supported by APS Bank, ADRC Trust and Studio 7, and all proceeds will go towards brain research, within the UoM. Tickets and further info can be obtained from St James Cavalier, Spazju Kreattiv on 21223200 or click here to purchase online.


The Four Seasons for Brain research

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Next month, on Easter Sunday 27th March, RIDT will be presenting Vivaldi’s famous violin concertos The Four Seasons in aid of brain research, featuring internationally acclaimed violinist Carmine Lauri under the direction of Michael Laus. RIDT CEO Wilfred Kenely speaks about the relationship between art and fundraising for research. (This article featured in First Magazine, February 2016)

Wilfred KenelySome months ago, researchers and academics from a number of departments and faculties of the University of Malta set up the Malta Neuroscience Network. This includes scientists working in pathology, anatomy, clinical medicine, psychology, ICT, cognitive science and other areas related to brain activity. These people are conducting research in their respective area of brain study. Some of the research covers more than one area, thus cutting across multiple departments and faculties.

The brain is perhaps the most complex machine that we can find in the entire world, and scientists all over the world have always been keen to decipher how it works. Science has come a long way in this regard and today we know much more than, say, 50 years ago, but there is still a lot that we don’t know and that’s why we need to keep investing in research.

Between the 14 and 20 March, the Malta Neuroscience Network joins the international community to celebrate the Brain Awareness WeekTogether with the other activities to be held during this week, RIDT is organising this concert as part of the awareness raising for brain research.

We believe that in order to promote top-notch science and research we should have top-
notch events and so we asked two internationally acclaimed artists – violinist Carmine Lauri and conductor Michael Laus – to support our event and are very honoured that they obliged. The performance will be supported by a 14-piece string ensemble that is also made up of some of the best musicians currently based in Malta.

Through this fund raising event we would like to Poster 4 seasons Carmine Laurigive people the opportunity to enjoy a lovely evening of the beautiful music of The Four Seasons performed by some of our best talent, and at the same time contributing to our cause. I believe this is a win-win opportunity.

This concert is supported by APS Banks and the ADRC Foundation. They have given their financial support through which we can cover all our organisational expenses, making it possible for all our proceeds to go towards our goal. We also received the support of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, who is providing the harpsichord to be used in the concert together with logistical support.

The RIDT is continuously reaching out to attract more and more funding for research. We would like to reach a stage where all sectors – industry NGO’s and individuals – will consider supporting research when considering making a philanthropic contribution. Similarly, we would like to see more and more companies include support for research in their CSR programmes.

There is no arguing about the fact that we, as a country, are always ready to support a good cause. The RIDT strongly believes that university research deserves to be considered as another good cause that merits our support. What lies ahead is not for the RIDT but for the whole nation. An investment in research is an investment in our future.

Booking for The Four Seasons is open. Tickets are available from St James Cavalier tel: 21223216 or online by clicking here.


Culture-Supported Research

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Jonathan Shaw

17 years after it was first held, Teatru Unplugged has become a highly-anticipated fixture on the local social calendar. Here, founder and producer of the popular concert Jonathan Shaw, tells us why the money raised from the last edition of Teatru Unplugged, went to cancer research.

Art and research have long been bedfellows; so much so, that some of the best anatomical drawings we have, including a series by all-round Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci, were done by painters conducting research for their art.

That relationship still exists in the modern world, but the ways in which it is carried out are much more varied; so varied, that some may even assume that those two elements inhabit different spheres altogether.

Yet, as entrepreneur Jonathan Shaw, who is known as one of the minds behind one of the most successful cultural ventures on the island, knows, together they can still do great things.

“Teatru Unplugged was an idea generated in 1997 between Nirvana Azzopardi and I,” Shaw explains. “The concept was to attract a new and younger audience to the Manoel Theatre, a place which was mostly the haunt of classical theatre-goers for classical events. To counteract this, we came up with a musical variety show that includes rock, jazz and bits of classical in short bursts, so the patron would get a taste of the different genres.”

Today, Teatru Unplugged is the longest-12002969_1049952728357985_2710742720240115273_nstanding fixture on our cultural calendar, attracting both great names to perform in it and host it (a list for the latter includes Lou Bondi, Pawlu Borg Bonaci, Clare Agius, Josef Bonello and Pia Zammit), as well as a great audience to enjoy the show.

“A part of the proceedings or the money raised through initiatives associated with Teatru Unplugged have always gone to good causes,” Shaw continues, “but ever since Nirvana passed away, we’ve committed ourselves to doing it towards cancer-related causes.

“This year we decided to go further than that, and got involved with RIDT, the research Trust of the University of Malta. We believe that Investing in research to help find possible or potential solutions to a problem is just as important as helping those who are currently facing that scenario.

“Nonetheless, I see that it may seem less humane or emotional, maybe even clinical and scientific, but, in my opinion, it’s important to channel support to the long-term solution at the root. In other words, to use an analogy, if you have poverty, you can give money so they can buy food in the short-term, but you  can also invest in training programmes to help those people in the long run. And, historically, the latter is more important.”

Before taking this decision, Shaw spoke to Nirvana’s parents, who still have an active role and say into where the proceedings go. “They also see the importance of donating towards research,” Shaw adds.

12391245_1088299164523341_8298021488168237260_n“Moreover, the research funded through RIDT is being done locally at the University of Malta so, in a way, raising funds for RIDT works both ways. This year, for example, we’re supporting a PhD student for a local scholarship.

“And, yes, from a practical business point of view, when you’re faced with a world-wide situation like cancer, and when so many countries and companies are trying to find a cure, many may find it hard to believe that Malta will be the place in which a cure will be found. But we can’t reason like this. We have to believe in our researchers – even when we know that there is no immediate result, but a long term investment in the research process ,” he adds.

Shaw’s determination to see the funds go towards research came after he visited the labs and researchers at the University of Malta, and was guided through all the breakthroughs they’ve made and the plans they have for the future. “But there’s so much more that needs to be done, and RIDT needs more funding to be able to continue its work,” he concludes.

The hard work behind this year’s Teatru Unplugged yielded another successful edition, and the memory of Nirvana still lives on in this incredible endeavor and all that comes out of it. The research is also going at a relentless pace. Nevertheless, funds are continuously needed to ensure it doesn’t cease.

You can be part of this fascinating world of research too, by helping many others achieve their breakthroughs in all the faculties of the University of Malta. Please click here for more information on how to donate to research of this kind through the Research Trust (RIDT).

Facing Abreast

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The fight against breast cancer doesn’t begin and end in October; it lasts 365 days a year. Here, Gertrude Abela, the President of Europa Donna Malta, tells us how, together, Europa Donna Malta and RIDT, are paving the way to a better future.


It was back in 1989 that Breast Cancer Support Group was founded; and, as an NGO, its role was to help and support women and families going through the trauma of breast cancer. Then, in 2004, the Group became affiliated with Europa Donna, the European Breast Cancer Coalition, and from then on, the Group rebranded to Europa Donna Malta.

The Group’s current president is Gertrude Abela, a passionate and driven woman, who is also a mother of five and grandmother of one.

“I first joined the Breast Cancer Support Group 15 years ago, when I, myself, was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was absolutely surreal. I was lying in bed when I then felt a small lump just underneath my arm. I didn’t make much of it, but I did keep going back to it and trying to figure out what it was…

“Since I didn’t want to worry my family, I told a friend. She offered to come with me to the doctor’s, and from an ultrasound, I was referred to a surgeon, and the next thing I knew I was being operated on.  Then the radiotherapy and chemo started…”

Gertrude is a survivor, but she does admit that there were many times breast cancer almost took over her life.

“It’s a whole saga of ups and downs; hope and despair.  But I had a lot of things to look forward to and to keep me going,” she admits.

But Gertrude also wanted to get her story out there and to help other women the way she was helped during some of the darkest hours of her life, and it was then that she joined Breast Cancer Support Care Group.

 “Fast-forward a few years and I’m now the President of the organisation,” she says. “This involves the day-to-day running of the organisation, visiting patients when needed, organising seminars and talks and fundraising events – all with the help of my committe, of course.”

On top of raising awareness and funds, Europa Donna Malta also befriends those who are undergoing the process to help them deal with all the hardships at hand. They also hold regular lectures to help professionals understand the emotions experienced by those battling breast cancer.

“One of our most valuable and perpetual initiatives remains the collecting and distribution of funds, however,” Gertrude continues. “Those funds go to anything from creating, printing and distributing  breast cancer awareness books and leaflets, to an educational fund to help health professionals further their studies, to research taking place at the University of Malta by Maltese researchers.”

Today, the Breast Cancer Research Group of the University of Malta is made up of researchers coming from various departments, including the Department of Physiology and Biochemistry, the Department of Pathology, and the Department of Surgery, along with the Department of Pathology and Surgery of Mater Dei Hospital.

One of this Group’s most noteworthy successes was their identification of a marker in cells that controls the growth of blood cells and they are now trying to understand its role within breast cancer, which may result in a key step in the fight against breast cancer!

Until then, breast cancer remains an afflication that affects many – including men – and research is pivotal to help cure and, more importantly, prevent it. That’s why, as RIDT, we believe it is important to continue investing in our researchers, who are raising the stakes and giving new hope to patients and family worldwide.

You can be part of this fascinating world of research too by supporting many other researchers in all the faculties of the University of Malta. Please click here for more information on how to donate to research of this kind through the Research Trust (RIDT).


The Ride Of Their Lives

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Still fresh from a seven day cycling challenge through a number of European countries for charity, Nicky Camilleri, the chairperson and co-founder of the ALIVE Charity Foundation, tells us how it all started, how far it’s come, and the sacrifice behind getting there.

1399225_798117280309212_2644435901309966797_oEvery year, a team of cyclists commit themselves to 16 weeks of training to increase endurance and stamina in preparation for the cycling challenge, which is normally organised at the beginning of July. Participating is no leisure, and one must be fully prepared for a physically- and mentally-tough challenge across several European countries in any weather condition. Cycling over 1000km to reach their designated end point, they are united in one aim: to raise as much money as they can for cancer research.

This formula has proven to be a very successful one and, in just two and half years, they’ll have raised over a quarter of a million. With that in mind it’s hard to believe that the ALIVE Charity Foundation is, technically, still a relatively new kid on the block.

“The idea for ALIVE first came about while I was cycling with Miriam during one of the weekly leisure rides organised by South Cranks, Malta’s largest cycling group with over 400 members.

“I remember it was just a few days after my birthday and we joked about getting older. I told her I felt that it was time I did

something with my life to give something back to the community,” he continues. “I’m quite the workaholic, you see, but I wanted to do something that made a difference. At that point, however, all we knew was that we wanted to do a cycling charity event on a large scale and that it had to be overseas to be successful. The what, how and where were still blurry”… explains Nicky Camilleri, the chairperson and co-founder of the Charity and one of its most avid cyclists.11010562_800962190024721_6635608230243310768_o

“We were so enthusiastic that it took less than a week for Miriam to rope in three other cycling buddies, Elton,
Gerth and Lydia, who, along with Miriam and myself, are the three other co-founders of ALIVE. It was Christmastime, I remember, but we were so determined that, in a matter of weeks, we set up an NGO and, in January 2013, ALIVE was launched as a Charity Foundation.

For Nicky this was a dream come true and something that would revolutionise his life, particularly because the reason
behind the charity is a personal one: “17 years ago I watched my mother succumbing to cancer,” he explains. “Since then, I’ve lost a good percentage of my extended family to the illness, too. It’s a terrible disease and it’s made me realise that prevention is better than cure and that research is just as important as offering support to those who are suffering.”

The first challenge – which saw 35 cyclists go from London to Paris through Brussels – was a complete success, with the funds raised in collaboration with Action for Breast Cancer Foundation going towards the Research Trust of the University of Malta (RIDT) to sustain a specialised programme in breast cancer research.
The second ALIVE Cycling Challenge for Cancer saw the two main breast cancer organisations in Malta working collaboratively with ALIVE towards this good cause. Action for Breast Cancer Foundation, as well as Europa Donna, saw
the need to team up and support ALIVE to raise more funds from the
community. So, as Nicky points out, “although we are a relatively budding foundation, we wanted to show the people out there that the 11754578_798956340225306_1710280727241957594_okey to obtaining more positive results is by working collaboratively with other Maltese organisations. In fact, this year, since the funds are intended to go towards Children Cancer Research, ALIVE found collaboration from the Malta Community Chest Fund and Puttinu Cares.

Now, fresh from their third cycling challenge, the foundation has become renowned for its honorable work. But what most people don’t get to see or experience is the cyclists’ incredible journey from civilians to semi-professional cyclists who cross great distances in such a short time.

“Adrenaline plays a major role during these events,” says Nicky. “In fact, it was only when I broke my shoulder just six weeks before the last challenge that I learnt how others can feel when, after weeks and weeks of training, something goes wrong and you are down and in the backup van. Will power plays a very important part but I really need to thank God for recovering fast and doing the challenge once again.

“We do take some risks, of course, but we emphasise on the safety of the participants. There was one instance last year where we were called in by fire brigades to shelter due to low visibility, strong winds and heavy rain, and had to wait it out until it was safe enough to continue cycling.  Ultimately, our main challenge isn’t just to raise
funds, but to also get to our destination as one whole team.

“During the challenge, we all become one big family and, sometimes, we would even need to reduce our
average speed to support those who might have encountered an injury on the way or feel exhausted, and encourage them to make it to their next destination. After all, it’s important to remember that these people would have been through 16 weeks of arduous training, and they’ll have raised at least €2,200 for charity each – that’s a must to be able to participate,” he adds.11059622_798956493558624_1738297738026928688_o

What’s most interesting about ALIVE is probably its name, which, as Nicky points out, was inspired by the following idea: ‘A: First we must LIVE then we’re Alive’.

“Many of us take a lot of things for granted, and we don’t take care of ourselves or our health,” he continues. “But, when we are hit with a sickness, we all wish we would have done things differently. That’s why the most important thing in life is to remember to live – and healthily at that!”

ALIVE Cycling Challenge for Cancer would not have been possible without the generosity of the sponsors and the Maltese community at large and together they have helped the Foundation raise thousands of euro for research. This year’s donation – “a record amount which we cannot divulge for now,” explains Nicky – will go towards children’s cancer research and you can read more about that here.

RIDT has been there with ALIVE since the very beginning, too, and Nicky and his team have entrusted us with distributing the funds since the very beginning.

“We had approached Wilfred Kenely, the CEO of Research Trust (RIDT), as soon as we started working on ALIVE,” says Nicky. “Very few people know just how many breakthroughs are taking place in Malta every year and, since we started, educating the public on the importance of cancer research has been one of our biggest challenges. RIDT, however, is at the forefront of both doing that, as well as helping to fund it, and we’re proud to have worked together.”

Preparations are now well underway for the ALIVE2016 Cycling Challenge for Cancer, with the event being launched in the coming months and training commencing in March 2016. Anyone who wishes to join the team can contact ALIVE through their Facebook page.


For more information on the ALIVE Charity Foundation please visit their site or follow them on Facebook.