As much a philosophy as a festival.
Four Winds at Nature's Concert Hall, showing Sound Shell and Windsong Pavilion. Photo by Warren Purnell
Now in its 27th year, the Four Winds Easter Festival takes place annually on the far south coast of New South Wales, a stretch of coastline named the Sapphire Coast, home to a vibrant cultural community. Nine kilometres from the coastal township of Bermagui is the main venue for the Festival, a natural soundshell facing a stage beside a small dam with the more recent addition of an impressive structure sited on higher ground. This is the Windsong Pavilion, a 180-seat shoebox-shaped and wood-lined acoustically designed space.
Spotted eucalyptus gums surround the venue and the ambience is enhanced by birdsong accompanying the outdoor performances. It was the vision of writer and Festival co-founder, the late Neilma Gantner (1922-2013), informally known as the ‘mother of the Festival’, who developed the concept of Four Winds that, over the last two days, I have come to regard as much a philosophy as a festival. The meaning of the title ‘Four Winds’ has been elusive to capture but encompasses being open and exposed to the following concepts: a love of nature and a respect for the environment, engagement with the local community including its Indigenous community (the Djiringanj people of the Yuin Nation), education for everyone, sustainability, and the very highest quality music and performers, offered in a variety of indoor and especially outdoor venues. It seems that independent Neilma, a fountain of enthusiasm and life to all who knew her, found great freedom and inner peace from both nature and music, particularly when they are combined.
The Festival encourages informality with a strong sense of hospitality. Artists are in residence for the week leading up to the Easter long weekend, working and interacting with one another. When they are not performing, rehearsing or teaching, artists are often available for social interaction with the audience. This year there is an all too familiar recognition that there can be a darker side to nature too. Festival artistic director James Crabb is keenly aware that festivals are often an opportunity for healing in the community. A Four Winds 2018 Easter Festival campaign has been launched to assist those affected by the recent devastating fires in the nearby coastal town of Tathra, where whole swathes of bushland were wiped out along with heavy property losses.
The Festival opened on Wednesday with an intimate afternoon House Concert in the Ivy Hill Gallery situated on farmland in Wapengo between Bermagui and Tathra. Sold out weeks in advance, such performances provide a rare opportunity to hear chamber music in an intimate context in some of the spectacular houses and natural settings of the area. The elegant Ivy Hill Gallery is set in a homestead surrounded by lush gardens. Some in the audience chose to listen from its grape vine covered and terracotta tiled wide veranda with a view towards the sacred Mumbula mountain. During the concert two wedge-tailed eagles undertook a majestic in-flight pas de deux over the property.
The program featured the Goldner String Quartet performing Haydn’s String Quartet in F major, Op 50 No 5 (its nickname ‘The Dream’ seemed highly appropriate in this context) and Latvian Peteris Vask’s String Quartet No 3 composed in 1995. The quartet was joined by James Crabb and Rohan Dasika, double bass player for three of the 5 Tango Sensations (Anxiety, Asleep and Fear) composed by Argentinian Ástor Piazzolla, a suite of works concerning the end of life first performed by the composer and the Kronos Quartet.
The Goldner String Quartet’s performance of the Haydn, one of the so-called Prussian Quartets, delighted for its shaping, intimacy and sense of humour in the opening Allegro moderato and the silky second movement Poco adagio dreamlike in its passages running in contrary motion. The Scherzo Allegretto was based around an ornament enchantingly coloured by the sound of chiming bellbirds surrounding us. The Finale: vivace capped everything off with good-natured fun.
The ensemble’s performance of Piazzolla’s three Tango Sensations for bandoneón and string quartet summoned an almost singeing intensity heard in such close proximity. Crabb demonstrated his passion for this music with delicacy of expression and thrilling virtuosity throughout. The huge emotional swell within Asleep was particularly affecting. Finally, Peteris Vask’s String Quartet No 3 seemed a perfect choice in an overall theme centred on ‘Peace on Earth’. Along with its decorative and textural use of birdsong, delicate col legno battuto strings, harmonics and the overtone series, the third movement Adagio emerged like a great primal scream, making a particularly powerful statement.
The first mainstage performance of this year’s Festival (Windsong Concert 1), taking place in the Windsong Pavilion on Thursday at 7pm, had a diffuse program, more a collection of incidental works. This was the first opportunity to hear the Festival’s newly purchased Shigeru Kawai grand piano. Entirely funded from donations, it received quite a workout on this occasion. This light-hearted concert introduced by the ABC’s Guy Noble avoided anything that could frighten even the most conservative of patrons. Instead it was a program of pure entertainment and diversion including two arrangements, two transcriptions and a marvellous short tango by Piazzolla.
Music by Moritz Moszkowski opened the concert with his 5 Spanish Dances for piano 4 hands, Op 12 arranged for piano and Classical accordion (Ian Munro and James Crabb), followed by Chopin’s Larghetto movement from the Piano Concerto No 2 in F minor arranged by its performer, Tamara-Anna Cislowska. Then came Erich Korngold’s Viel Lärmen um Nichts (Much Ado About Nothing) for violin and piano, Op 11 (originally incidental music to the play by Shakespeare, composed 1918–1919 and thereafter reworked into a suite for violin and piano) performed by English violinist Jack Liebeck and Cislowska. Piazzolla’s hugely erotic tango Oblivion (Crabb, Munro, Rohan Dasika, double bass and Emma Pearson, soprano) was preceded by Darius Milhaud’s Scaramouche suite, Op 165b jubilantly performed by the two pianists.
The two highlights of this performance were the Chopin arrangement superbly played by Tamara-Anna Cislowska on the finely voiced new piano and the slow, perfectly paced tango by Piazzolla that was hypnotising, sensuous and achingly beautiful.
House Concert 1: ★★★★☆
Windsong Concert 1: ★★★★
The Four Winds 2018 Easter Festival, Bermagui runs from 28 March to 1 April
David Barmby visited the Four Winds 2018 Easter Festival as a guest of the festival.
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