OPENING concerts for a music festival are tricky things. There will inevitably be a couple of (hopefully brief) speeches, some acknowledgement of sponsors and variety in the music presented to give a sense of what the rest of the festival might provide.
This opening concert fulfilled that brief inventively. It would seem that festival director Roland Peelman has engaged not only various set ensembles, but a number of soloists who can be used by themselves or to augment other groups as required. They are a diverse bunch of musicians and several were featured during this opening concert gala. These included Ned McGowan playing contrabass flute, pianist Keiko Shichijo, young American violinist Tim Fain and a German recorder player who seemingly does not breathe, Susanna Borsch.
The first half was an almost uninterrupted flow of short pieces, mostly from the 20th century. It began with a duet from didgeridoo player William Barton and the contrabass flute and ended with the premiere of a new work by local composer Brenda Gifford for the unusual mix of instruments that had presented the other short works. Brenda is an indigenous woman who demonstrated a delightful inventiveness in her nine-part Gambambarawaraga Suite.
Photos by PETER HISLOP
The second half was a selection of Handel arias and duets, sung with theatricality by countertenor Tobias Cole and mezzo-soprano Kate Howden. They were accompanied by the Bach Akademie Australia augmented by two of the festival’s international guests (baroque violinist Cecilia Bernardini and theorbo player Simone Vallerotonda) and Australian harpist Alice Giles with festival director Peelman directing from the harpsichord. All delightful stuff.
The Fitters Workshop venue has been set up with a stage perhaps half a metre high, which allows quite reasonable sightlines, at least from halfway back. Of course, the lack of any back stage means performers must enter and leave through the audience, but that can be used to advantage with a little thought. A novelty this year is a screen above the stage on which can be projected surtitles. This was an advantage during the first half of the concert which was mostly short pieces without any introduction and where the title of the work could be shown. It was a little distracting having the lyrics of the Handel arias projected as well as the title, but others might enjoy that.
This was a most enjoyable opening concert. There is much to come over the next week, but there are two concerts of great promise next weekend that will feature participants from the opening concert. Italian trio I Bassifondi have a concert on Saturday morning and pianist Keiko Shichijo plays Eric Satie and the music of a wonderfully obscure Armenian composer Komitas Vardapet on Sunday.