Fund Raising

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.

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A Gift That Keeps on Giving

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From an early age we are taught that charity should be selfless, but what’s wrong with donating money towards something that could, one day, benefit you or your loved ones? Here, CEO of Research Trust (RIDT) Wilfred Kenely explains how community funding has aided research in a multitude of spheres.

Wilfred Kenely
Wilfred Kenely, RIDT CEO

Did you know that recent research conducted in Malta discovered a biomarker that will help doctors classify breast cancer patients for selection therapy? And that this discovery is so significant that two scientists working on it have been invited to present it at international fora? More importantly, however, did you know that €135,000 of the total sum needed to conduct this research were donated by people like you? Over the past decade, the University of Malta has  invested heavily in research across a wide spectrum of areas. Significant investments in equipment, laboratories and other infrastructures came as a direct result of the EU structural funds, made available once Malta joined the Union in 2004. Malta’s participation in the EU’s research programme also contributed to this investment. Yet, constant funds are needed to ensure that this activity is sustained and that our scientists get the best training they can. That requires additional funding mechanisms and a steady and sustainable flow of serious funding. Thus, RIDT is doing just that, but the organisation needs our help if it is to continue funding essential research.

“Over the past couple of years, RIDT has funded or received funds for  projects across a number of faculties and departments,” says Wilfred Kenely, the CEO of the Research Trust. “For obvious reasons, the bias is in favour of health and medicine, but not only. For instance, we have received funds which are financing a PhD scholarship in Maritime Law, and we have also attracted donations for studies in

GSK signing an agreement with University and RIDT in support of the Mobile Dental Clinic
GSK signing an agreement with University and RIDT in support of the Mobile Dental Clinic

digital marketing, ICT and economics, among others. “We are also finalising a mobile dental clinic, which will be conducting a national survey on oral health, while providing dental care to patients who may not be able to visit a dentist for one reason or another,” he adds.

The importance of this research – apart from the obvious benefits – is that  Malta’s researchers are at the forefront of world-class studies that could potentially change people’s lives for the better. And all this is possible thanks to your donations.

 “The biggest return that any donation can get is the long-term benefit,” Wilfred explains. “It’s an investment in the future of our country and our lives. “Obviously, no one can ever guarantee a return on investment in research, but it’s pivotal to keep in mind that the quality of life we are used to today is the result of an investment in research some time in the past. “The fact that, nowadays, we live longer lives in more comfortable settings is the result of research that happened over the years in medicine, technology and much, much more,” he argues. “ The fact that we are living a much better life today than say a 100 years ago, is not a coincidence.” “So we should not be skeptical about research taking place in Malta, on the contrary, we should believe more in our capabilities, and in the skills of our human capital. We should believe that, yes, given the right resources, collaborations and networking opportunities, there is a lot that our researchers can achieve and a lot that the University of Malta (UoM) can contribute to, even when it comes to the international community, which we already form a part of.”

Life Cycle
LifeCycle Foundation’s donation following the 2012 Cycling Challenge in favour of research in renal disease

Nevertheless, although the discoveries that have taken place in Malta are remarkable, Wilfred believes that the most important breakthrough has been the beginning of a change in public perception with regards to research.

“Donating towards a just cause is always a noble deed but, in parallel to that, RIDT has introduced a culture of supporting research through public financing and through philanthropy – a system that, together with strong government investments, keeps the research centres going across Europe and in the USA.’’ ‘We believe that research funding should be primarily the role of the government, with the support of the community, because we all stand to benefit from the result of such investment. This should apply not only to industrial research, but also to the more fundamental studies which have over time, always produced the most revolutionary leaps of thought.’

To make public funding easier, RIDT has devised various schemes that allow UoM staff and students to donate money. Moreover, as Wilfred explains: “the legal notice that established the Research Trust gives a tax incentive to any donations that are of €150 or upwards – and that applies to every individual or organization that pays taxes in Malta.” The RIDT has also received the backing of the Malta Community Chest Fund on research in the genetics of osteoporosis, a cause that the President of the Republic has taken a keen interest in. So much so, that our conversation was cut short by a telephone call to discuss one of their upcoming meetings.

IMAG0453
Shawn Baldacchino, recipient of a PhD Scholarship in Breast Cancer Research supported by Alive Charity Foundation and Action for Breast Cancer Foundation.

“It is so uplifting  to have the President, and so many others – NGOs, corporates, Foundations, individuals – taking interest in this research, and to see that they are endorsing our initiatives” Wilfred concludes. “All this gives us the energy to do more and to work harder.”

You can contribute towards RIDT-funded research by visiting their website, www.ridt.org.mt; the platform also allows you to pick the area you’d like your money to be utilised for. You can also support initiatives or attend one of the fundraising events organised by the trust, including their lunchtime concert series which will start again in October. For more information about RIDT, please call +356 2340 8201.