‘Music is beyond cynicism,’ says festival director Peelman

BLAZING a revolutionary theme that the director of the National Museum of Australia, Matthew Trinca, confessed had caused him some “small nervousness,” the 2017 Canberra International Music Festival launched itself in high style last night at the Museum at the NMA.

Ng, left and Yang, right under a projection from the scroll, photo Peter Hislop

Top item on the revolutionary agenda for the night was the unveiling of “The Harvest of Endurance,” a musical/art/historical creation scheduled for May 4 that would be underpinned by the mighty 50 m scroll of the same name held in the Museum that traces the lives of Chinese people in Australia.

A viewing of the scroll, we discovered – the second for the second time only – would be offered to patrons who attended the musical narrative performed by William Yang and celebrated erhu player, Nicholas Ng – both of them were there for the event. Among the many musical luminaries who would perform in this creative endeavour would be Canberra choir Luminescence, who were naturally on hand to perform a short work by composer Robert Davidson.

“Bigger is not always better”, the newish CEO of the festival Gavin Findlay proclaimed as he explained how the strategic development of partnerships would see the already successful event, which has its origins in chamber music, into the future without resorting to bigger-than-Ben Hur presentations. He drew particular attention to the diplomatic missions in Canberra which had so generously provided both musicians and space for concerts in the developing festival.

Peelman at the launch, photo Peter Hislop

Then it was time for the flamboyant if not usually revolutionary artistic director of the festival, Roland Peelman, to appear, backed by projected images of Che Guevara, Mao Zedong and the revolutionary French tricolour and music including “The Marseillaise” and “The Internationale”.

The festival would be book ended by Rachmaninov and Shostakovich, he said and If you looked back in history, you’d realise that Mozart was composing his greatest work at the very time of the French Revolution – he’d be on the program – and if you thought further you’d realise that the 18th century marked the beginning of modern political thinking – Handel’s “Birthday Ode to Queen Anne” might have been wasted on that monarch, but it wouldn’t be when it was performed for us.

And as for a modern day revolutionary flavour, you could hardly go beyond the virtuosic Simón Bolívar String Quartet from Venezuela.

With Chinese-American composer Chen Yi as composer in residence along with Australia’s own Elena Kats-Chernin, Andrew Ford, Robert Davidson, who has been busy setting famous Australian political speeches to music, including Julia Gillard’s Misogyny speech, you could fairly expect some of the performances to get right up people’s noses.

But, he reassured the packed auditorium of patrons, press and well wishers, the presence of local musicians such as David Pereira and Louise Page, to say nothing of celebrated didgeridoo artist William Barton and a swag of international performers, there would be much to delight patrons.

And anyway, as Peelman put it: “In these cynical times of post-truth politics, music is beyond cynicism. It brings joy and something which words rarely can express.”

Canberra International Music Festival, April 27-May 7, bookings and all details to cimf.org.au


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