Review / Natural amphitheatre lends itself to fine music

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“Yanaya” (Yearning) performed by David Leha. Photo by Peter Hislop
THE NSW Sapphire Coast is very lucky to have the beautiful Four Winds property, with its superb natural amphitheatre and brilliantly conceived and built soundshell. 

To cap it off, the venue is graced with a sound system to die for, and expert sound engineers who understand the sound required for orchestral performance. It was an absolute pleasure, for once, to be able to attend outdoor concerts and enjoy not only the musicianship in stunning surroundings but also the marvellous sound.

Four concerts were presented each day, beginning with a welcome to country by Yuin elders. Then it was into the music, which started with a celebration of local talent, including a choir of local indigenous children. There was the world premiere of “Yanaya” (Yearning) by David Leha (Radical Son) an indigenous vocalist and composer with Kamilaroi and Tongan heritage.

Another world premiere was an astonishing fusion of two ancient cultures. Stonewave Taiko (from Bega) and their traditional Japanese Taiko drums provided rhythm for the indigenous women and children of Djaadjawan Dancers performing story-telling Aboriginal dances.

Alice Giles performs “Breath Dance”. Photo by Peter Hislop
But two world premieres were not enough. Yet another was “Breath Dance” by Timothy Geller, written for harpist, Alice Giles. Giles had taken her harp to Antarctica and recorded the sound the wind created, pulsating through the strings. Using that recording as accompaniment, and surrounded by four wind harps, Giles played the written work, creating a remarkable piece of mysterious beauty.

In a complete change of pace, Jessie Lloyd’s Mission Songs Project took their audience on a journey of indigenous cultures in popular songs from Tasmania to Thursday Island and, finally to her home at Palm Island.

Another contrast on day one was a magnificent performance of “Ayre” by the Argentine composer, Osvaldo Golijov. A large ensemble accompanied soprano, Emma Pearson, in an exploration of songs from medieval Andalusia, influenced by the Christian, Arabic and Sephardic cultures that came through the region. Pearson changed her vocal delivery and inflections brilliantly in a highly energetic and emotion-charged set of eleven songs pulling a standing ovation from the 2000-strong audience.

All of that and much more filled only day one!

The Song Company. Photo by Peter Hislop
Easter Sunday morning saw The Song Company engaged in a 16th century dinner party, singing songs from partbooks. But it seemed somehow a bit remote. The audience seemed to be uninvited on-lookers to a private function. The Song Company performed the songs superbly, but its programming seemed misplaced in this setting.

Cellist Julian Smiles. Photo by Peter Hislop
Among the many other works performed on day two was the Cello Concerto No 2, “Presence”, written in 2011-12 by the Latvian composer, P?teris Vasks. Soloist was the marvellous Julian Smiles. Snubbing the usual fast-slow-fast format, this slow-fast-slow work explores life itself. The Australian National Academy of Music Strings provided fine accompaniment to Smiles’ superb interpretation of this very atmospheric piece.

Another world premiere was “Visiting Eucalyptus” by Australian composer, Damien Barbeler. Here he did as the title suggests. He visited and took photos of eucalyptus trees, explored their textures, and wrote a work for 10-instrument ensemble. The textures of the music certainly reflect the diversity of the species and will accompany a multi-media installation.

Completing the day’s outdoor concerts was the 9-movement “The Three Dancers” by Russian-Australian composer, Elena Kats-Chernin, telling the story of a violent love triangle in which two of the protagonists end up dead. The large ensemble’s playing was full of changing emotions, moods and rhythms, providing a very fine conclusion to a second fascinating day of music-making at the 2018 Four Winds Music Festival.

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