Australian Festival of Chamber Music Roundup

Gillian Wills

A whale of a time.
Australian Festival of Chamber Music Roundup

Violin, photograph via Australian Festival of Chamber Music.

“Look out for rocks, reefs and all kinds of ocean creatures,” sang Baritone Roderick Williams who was teaching his audience to sing, ‘Heave Ho,’ a sea shanty, on an isolated beach on Orpheus Island. Ironically, on the ferry streaming towards the Island, west of Cordelia Rocks, the engines were shut down, because of the spectacle of a playful humpback whale and calf breaching and swimming, their gleaming black top lines visible in the sea.

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Surprise and the odd haptic moments are one of the endearing aspects of any classical music Festival. And the set up for the stage with a backdrop of a rock face on white sand took a long time, not, that the punters minded. There was plenty to see, including Nick Deutsch, bassoonist Andrew Barnes, clarinettist David Griffiths and French horn specialist Herve Joulain tuning up in the sea. 

But only Barber’s ‘Summer Music’ and Rweski’s ‘To The Earth,’ which percussionist Claire Edwards’ performed on four flowerpots, Bongo-O and Williams’ call and response segment were heard. The program was cut short because by 5.30 pm, the light was fading fast and the crowd were quickly escorted onto the ferry for the trip back.

Not CD polished, but generously, the wind quintet performed Ibert’s ‘Three Woodwind Pieces’ on board, with amused Sealink crew holding up torches and scores.

Less than perfect deliveries in awkward locations are a reminder that live performance is risky and involves hundreds and hundreds of hours of mastery. Clinkers are a reality, there’s the odd wrong note or an out of tune moment. But, these are all part and parcel of the exciting fabric of performance.

Four thousand people sat on rugs or portable chairs for the Queens Gardens Concert in Townsville. Festival soloists, soprano Valda Wilson and violinist Tasmin Little, excelled. Accompanied by the Barrier Reef Orchestra, Little powered through Vivaldi’s Four Seasons just as if she was performing in Carnegie Hall. Wilson’s Aria from Verdi’s La Traviata was heartfelt and charmed the crowd and moved a young child to do a skirt swirling dance on the grass where Wilson sang. 2000 paper bags were handed out to the audience to be popped on queue in imitation of the explosive sound of the cannon which produced smiles all round. 

‘Don Juan’ inspired by the life of Byron and his epic poem Don Juan was brilliant and absorbing theatre presented by guitarist Karin Schauup and actor director Tama Matheson. Schauup’s impressively played solos and occasional acting and Matheson’s incarnation of Byron was riveting and convincing music-cum-theatre.

Artistic Director Piers Lane, continues to champion Townsville’s old buildings by scheduling events in them. In ‘Concert Crawl,’ performances were presented in three spaces. In Dance North Theatre, The Three Dancers, choreographed by Lee Serle, with lively pulsing music by Elena Kats Chernin, was hypnotic and utterly captivating.

Women composers – although not enough of them – were featured including Miriam Hyde, Jennifer Fowler and Elena Kats Chernin. In the Perc Tucker Gallery, British composer Madeleine Dring’s Trio for flute, oboe and piano was essayed with bubbling pzazz by flautist Bridget Bolliger, Nick Deutsch and Sa Chen. In the Farewell Concert, Kats Chernin played an especially commissioned piano piece ‘Tropical Nights’ as a present for Lane who has curated ten Festivals.

The Australian Festival of Chamber Music
29 July – 6 August 2016 

About the author

Gillian Wills writes for ArtsHub and has published with The Australian, Limelight Magazine, Courier Mail, Townsville Bulletin and The Strad, Musical Opinion, Cut Common, Loudmouth, Artist Profile and Australian Stage Online. Gillian is the author of Elvis and Me: How a world-weary musician and a broken ex-racehorse rescued each other (Finch Publishing) which was released in the UK, Canada, New Zealand and America in January, 2016.