Since the late 18th century, art songs have combined poetic vocals and equally intricate instrumental accompaniments to delight listeners with intimate compositions across the globe. The Malta Philharmonic Orchestra Trio’s CANTILENA spans the centuries and continents to highlight the form’s enduring appeal.

Today, the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra Trio are our featured artists in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our composers and performers. Read on to discover each trio member’s alternative dream profession…

Who was your first favorite artist growing up?

Britt Arend: When I was a young teenager, I watched the movie “The Music Teacher” (Le Maître de Musique) and completely fell in love with the main character, Belgian world-famous bass-baritone opera singer José Van Dam. His voice is so incredibly beautiful, and I am sure my love for opera started with this movie, which is still one of my all-time favourites! Few years later, I had the chance to admire José Van Dam in several productions of the Royal Opéra in Liège, among others his unforgettable “Scarpia”. Opera became a real passion for me, and I always had a huge admiration for these wonderful opera singers who give their audiences so much emotion and beauty.

Gillian Zammit: Definitely my favourite artist then and now remains Maria Callas. She had an extraordinary ability to communicate with her audience through a rare combination of acting ability and wonderful musicality. She knew how to colour her voice so that every note and every phrase had a meaning and an emotion. Her desire to take her artistry to its ultimate level through hard work and determination has always been inspirational to me.

When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist?

Britt Arend: When I was very young, maybe 3 years old, I asked my parents if I could play the harp. They had no idea where I might have seen one as they never listened nor watched classical music at home. They thought I was crazy!!! I kept asking and asking, until they had me start … piano lessons!!! I was learning quickly, but being very stubborn I kept asking for the harp!! Finally, when I was 9 years old, my parents bought a Celtic harp and found a private teacher. From the moment I started playing the harp I knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life! It has always come so natural for me, whilst giving me balance. I like to think that I did not choose the harp, but rather, the harp actually chose me! Later on, I realized that what I preferred was to perform within an orchestra and play chamber music, especially with opera singers. I feel so lucky that my passion has become my job, exactly the way I wanted!

Frank Camilleri: Well, my first exposure to music was through my brother who is a musician himself, (brass player). Although I was encouraged to learn a brass instrument, which I did for some years, my admiration and love for string instruments took over. I was still a young boy when I heard the sound of the cello. I remember I was watching a movie whose prominent theme of the soundtrack was played by the cello. I immediately fell in love with the instrument and decided to start cello lessons. And that was it… Then of course, I think the realization of what you want to be goes along with your first years of studies and beyond…

Gillian Zammit: I was 5 years old, when I first started piano lessons and my earliest memory is a musical one. I was listening to my sister playing the piano and knew that that was what I wanted to do. I had no concept of course at the time of what it meant to have a job or profession but I knew that music was what I wanted to be involved in. Once I started piano lessons and then later my voice studies it further consolidated the knowledge that music would be my life.

What was your most unusual performance, or the most embarrassing thing that happened to you during a performance?

Britt Arend: The worst thing that ever happened to me was the sudden breaking of a pedal at the beginning of a performance I was playing in Brussels with a chamber orchestra, in my early twenties. There are seven pedals on the harp, one for each note, and they are connected, through a metal cable inside the column, to a mechanism changing the pitches of the strings. I was playing and all of a sudden, I heard a weird noise and started playing the wrong notes. I quickly checked my pedals, but they were in their right positions. Then, in total despair, I noticed that one of them was not changing the pitches of the corresponding note anymore and realised that the mechanism was broken!!! I started sweating hard and focused on playing the rest of the performance without playing any of the notes corresponding to that pedal. It was a nightmare and the performance seemed never-ending!! At the end of the show, I went to the conductor to apologize, but he really cheered me up saying he had not even noticed anything!!! It took many days to have the broken metal cable inside my harp column fixed.

Frank Camilleri: What else can be more embarrassing than to hear a string breaking off the fingerboard? Some three years ago I was playing a cello recital, all was going well and good till the very last few bars of the 1st movement of the Brahms cello sonata in E minor (allegro non troppo) when I heard this massive blow of the G string. Even today, I still feel the same sense of helplessness and embarrassment. However, in the circumstance, I had to remain calm; I smiled and went off stage to change the string.

If you could make a living at any job in the world, what would that job be?

Britt Arend: I love my job and would not change it for anything in the world! I guess, in another life, if I were another person, less shy and more self-confident, I would have loved to be an opera singer, probably a tenor!!! I know by heart all Puccini operas, and most of Italian operas in general, so I think Iʼd really have a blast singing the most beautiful arias in the most wonderful theatres around the world!!!

Frank Camilleri: Apart from music and the arts, medical science was always of interest to me; my older sister is a pharmacist by profession and therefore I was always very curious however as my strongest inclination was always for the arts like my brother, one can say that my brother won. Moreover, in music and the arts everything revolves around the emotion and the subjectivity of the being, especially in interpretation and musicality… in medicine you cannot work with emotion but only with facts.

Gillian Zammit: I have to say that I already make a living at my ideal job! However another dream job would be to be an archaeologist and most specifically an Egyptologist.

If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

Frank Camilleri: On a mountain, in absolute silence, playing Bach’s cello suites while listening carefully to what music is emitting and what the notes want to tell you.

Gillian Zammit: I love New York and find it so inspiring on so many levels. I find the architecture, theatre scene and the energy amazing. Art Deco is another love of mine and there are some amazing examples in New York which are very inspiring to me.

If you could instantly have expertise performing one instrument, what instrument would that be?

Frank Camilleri: Most definitely the Pipe Organ, for its wide range of sounds and vast repertoire. Apart from that, it has always fascinated me especially for its complex mechanisms, the coordination extremities, its power and massiveness that leave you in awe.

Gillian Zammit: Definitely the cello, it’s an instrument that I love and would love to be able to play. I’m very jealous of Frank!

What was your favourite musical moment on the album?

Britt Arend: I am in love with Allerseelen. I love all Richard Strauss lieders, but this song in particular moves me to tears, every single time I play it. Gillian is pouring her heart out, the music is so incredibly beautiful, and the lyrics always make me think of a very special person in my life, whom I truly love and deeply miss.

What does this album mean to you personally?

Britt Arend: This album means so much to me because we chose all songs that we really love, and in which we give all our heart. It has been such a pleasure and rewarding to record it, after performing extensively in Malta and abroad with Gillian during the last ten years. We are so happy and proud that PARMA Recordings and the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra entrusted us with this project. Iʼd like to take this opportunity to thank them and all the amazing persons who somehow contributed, from the bottom of my heart. It has been a wonderful journey filled with hard work, dedication and emotions. I hope that whoever listens to the album will enjoy it as much as we enjoyed doing it!

Frank Camilleri: I always had chamber music at heart, and I think it gives you the opportunity to express and experience a close relationship with few other musicians through music. That is what I think this album is all about. When you play, for example Strauss’s Morgen or Elegie by Massenet, you can communicate this beauty both with your colleagues and your audience. If this communication reaches our audience, then our goal would have been reached.

Is there a specific feeling that you would like communicated to audiences in this work?

Gillian Zammit: I would like the listener to be able to feel the love that each of us has for this repertoire. Personally, this programme highlights a number of my favourite Lied and art songs so I hope that anyone listening will feel the emotional connection that I have for these pieces.

Explore Malta Philharmonic Orchestra Trio’s Latest Release

CANTILENA - album cover


Since the late 18th century, art songs have combined poetic vocals and equally intricate instrumental accompaniments to delight listeners with intimate compositions across the globe. The Malta Philharmonic Orchestra Trio’s CANTILENA spans the centuries and continents to highlight the form’s enduring appeal.