Music / Sensitive whisper gets festival off to a thrilling start

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YOU’D expect an opening gala for a festival to be full of fanfares.  But this opening gala, for the 22nd Canberra International Music Festival began with a most sensitive whisper.

Bach’s “Prelude, Fugue and Allegro”, BWV 998, was written for the lute-harpsichord.  In an arrangement for guitar, Andrey Lebedev, who studied with Tim Kain at the ANU School of Music, gave it a treatment more like a serenade than a study.  His close and abiding relationship with his instrument was obvious; he caressed it with a gentleness and love so special the many nuances he created both in sound and interpretation of the music held the capacity audience spellbound.  The Fitters’ Workshop acoustic seemed well in tune with all that Lebedev created as well.  It was an absolutely beautiful performance.

Then another Bach piece, the Contrapunctus I & IX from “The Art of Fugue”, BWV 1080, but this time played by Tambuco Percussion on four marimbas of different registers set in a square in the middle of the room.  This was another brilliant performance, delivered with unimaginable precision and a sensitivity of expression that, like Lebedev’s guitar, left the audience breathless.  It was teamwork at its very best with the parts together delivering much more than the whole.

An ocean away and 300 years later and we come to the Mexican composer, Javier Álvarez, and his piece “Metro Chabacano”.  It was an exciting, even thrilling piece, with many intertwining rhythms again demanding, and getting, military precision but also delivering a highly musical result.

Then it was up the back of the room, but still in Mexico, for Tambuco and four sets of drums and cymbals and other percussive paraphernalia of various shapes and sizes for “Danza Isoritmica”, by Mario Lavista.  And if it was a dance we were expecting, we got it in rhythmic abundance; it was an exhilarating finish to the first half of the program.

The Australian composer, Gerard Brophy, was in the room for the world premiere performance of his 2015 work “Dervish (Beaver Blaze 2015)”, commissioned by visual arts icon, Betty Beaver.  The unusual band, the Boccherini Trio augmented by Andrey Lebedev (guitar) and Ricardo Gallardo (from Tambuco) playing the vibraphone, played an interesting mix of traditional classical stylings with many moments of post-avant-garde modernism.

For Brophy’s second piece, “Vox Angelica for percussion and string quartet” the Trio, sitting up the front of the room, was joined by violinist Anna McMichael, while, down the back, the four members of Tambuco stood at vibraphones set in a row, augmented by a range of non-tuned percussion.  Festival director, Roland Peelman, mounted a conductor’s podium set in between, in the middle of the room.  It looked odd, but was extremely effective, allowing the sound to fill the room and take full advantage of that marvellous acoustic. In quite slow 4/4 time, Peelman achieved amazing precision with the many spurts of sound from one, or other, or both ends of the room, mixed with rather melancholy, ethereal sounds again floating across and through the room from both directions.

The final works on the program were by the Argentine composer, Astor Piazzolla. It required the string quartet, augmented by double bass player, Rohan Dasika, and accordionist, James Crabb, who also arranged the music.  Of course, this is where the title for the concert came into its own. There were (figuratively) clenched red roses aplenty through a series of three works, all played with the kind of passion expected from this most sensuous of all music.  Resounding applause demanded an encore – another Piazzolla tango which brought this gala opening concert to a thrilling conclusion.


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