IN an impassioned speech on YouTube, the Canberra International Music Festival’s director Roland Peelman today (November 23) launched the 2021 autumn event with the enticing promise of bringing Vienna to Canberra – with an all-Aussie line-up of musicians.
Drawing parallels between the ‘City of Dreams’ and the once-derided ‘City Without A Soul’, Peelman pointed to the beauty, the richness of the culture and the pivotal role in music shared by both towns.
In 2019, Canberra was rated Australia’s best place to live for the third year in a row, while Vienna was recently named the “world’s most liveable city” for the second year running by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
Vienna, Peelman pointed out, is the city where Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven made history, where Schubert and Strauss were born, where Mahler led its famous opera house into the 20th century and where Schönberg anticipated the human tragedy of two world wars.
“A trip to Vienna may not be possible during covid times, but instead Vienna’s musical legacy and spirit of innovation, including a waltz or two, will be captured,” he said.
With all that in mind, Mozart’s “Turkish March”, he said, would open the festival, the popular series, “Beethoven for Breakfast” would feature as a daily treat, and Mahler’s “The Song of the Earth” would conclude the event on May 9.
Mindful of the festival’s enforced 2020 cancellation, Peelman and his team have put in place covid-safe plans, both indoor and outdoor events, in particular by programming concerts of one hour each, repeated twice on most occasions.
The Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra will make its Canberra debut, with two Mozart concerts that will see performing scholar Neal Peres Da Costa and Canberra flautist Sally Walker centre stage.
Canberra-born violin virtuoso Kristian Winther returns to the festival with Beethoven and Schubert.
Beethoven gets six outings, while Mozart and Schubert score two concerts each. Mozart’s Requiem Mass, written on his deathbed, is presented in a decomposition by Gordon Hamilton, described by critics as a “Richterfication”.
Jazz is to the fore, as it is in Vienna too, with the Australian Art Orchestra, Andrea Keller and Sandy Evans appearing at the Fitters’ Workshop and jazz venues around town.
Of special interest is Evans’s tribute to Mahatma Gandhi and his principle of non-violence, “Ahimsa”, which fuses jazz and Indian classical music.
On a darker note, two festival premieres are directly related to COVID-19.
Katy’s Abbott’s interactive “Hidden Thoughts: Do I Matter?” is distilled from the answers of more than 200 women to a confidential survey about their private thoughts.
The Australian Voices asked 22 composers to write a response to the pandemic at a time when no one could physically sing together. The result is “Far and Near”, 22 songs from beat-boxing to chanting, from scatting to singing, brought together for the first time in Canberra.
Peelman is especially proud of the fact that this year the NGA and the ANU School of Music have joined to celebrate First Nations artists by performing every day during the festival.
Canberra composers Brenda Gifford and Chris Sainsbury will feature, along with performer-celebrities, the didgeridoo player William Barton and violinist Eric Avery, the Tiwi Strong Women and the Wilfred brothers from Arnhem Land.
Nardi Simpson, best known as part of the Stiff Gins, will present “Possum Song” in the Yuwaalaraay language, which incorporates the sounds made by a possum cloak.