Strong start to the best festival that never was

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Roland Peelman in the laneway behind the Peggy Glanville-Hicks house.

Music / “The Best Festival We Never Had”, launch performances of the 2020 Canberra International “Virtual” Music Festival. Reviewed by TONY MAGEE

FROM a Paddington laneway, behind the historic home of Australian composer Peggy Glanville-Hicks, now a residency and performance space for emerging Australian composers, Canberra International Music Festival artistic director Roland Peelman presented his address, launching its cleverly and hastily devised “virtual festival”, which had an “official” launch time of 2pm, Friday, May 1, although it was not actually a live stream.

“Artists are the people who generate ideas – new ideas – and new ideas are probably what we need more than anything else in these times”, said Peelman in his opening remarks.

“We may not rate music as ‘essential services’ – I’m thinking of our nurses, doctors and teachers at the moment – but in times of crisis when everything is closed down or locked up, music actually opens the mind. It raises our hopes for what is to come.

“Peggy Glanville-Hicks, like many female composers of her generation, had to face her share of challenges. But she was tenacious and really showed extraordinary resilience. I would say that all the artists in this year’s festival have resilience written in their DNA and I hope you enjoy their work and find ways of supporting them.

“Together, we will be stronger and together we can all get through this”.

Dame Myra Hess – wartime music legend.

During World War II in Britain, pianists Dame Myra Hess and Moura Lympany joined forces to organise daily lunchtime concerts at the National Art Gallery in central London, to raise British morale.

Winston Churchill had ordered all artworks in the gallery be removed and relocated to underground safety bunkers for preservation. In addition, all evening concert halls were blacked out at night to avoid being targeted by German bombers, including the two most prominent venues – Wigmore Hall and Royal Albert Hall.

Hess’ lunchtime concerts, numbering 1968 over a period of six years, were presented on Monday to Friday without fail.

Every artist was paid five guineas no matter who they were.

Hess personally played in 150 of the concerts.

Included in the Canberra virtual festival launch, was an improvisation for violin and didgeridoo played by Veronique Serret and William Barton, filmed on April 30 in the Peggy Glanville-Hicks residency.

Veronique Serret and William Barton in the Peggy Glanville-Hicks residency.

A piece of intense emotion and feeling, the players took both instruments to extremes. The didgeridoo bass drone foundation was interspersed with percussive, haunting and ancient sounds – showcasing the skills of William Barton and bedazzling the listener with his endless variety of guttural, primal, and evocative shades of colour and depth.

Serret on violin, formerly with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and now leader of the Darwin Symphony, complimented Walton’s playing with searing and evocative sounds, sometimes melodic, sometimes percussive.

Both players inspired each other and reacted to each other, creating a piece of unknown destination, and unknown territory before dwindling into a surreal, mystical, mist.

A final inclusion in the online activities, came from the Australian Romantic and Classical Orchestra, that shared a link to its YouTube playlist of the repertoire it would have delivered live during the 2020 festival.

Highlights include “Haydn’s Creation”, in a performance by the Academy of Ancient Music, conducted by Christopher Hogwood, Handel’s “Water Music Suite” from the London 2012 Proms and “Les éléments” by Jean-Féry Rebel, performed by The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin.

Until May 10 news and video uploads from some of the festival artists will be available for viewing and listening at the CIMF Facebook page and website ( – just a glimpse of “The Best Festival We Never Had”.

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