Music and the arts fill the air

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Goldner Quartet. Photo: David Rogers Photography.

Music / Four Winds Festival 2021, Bermagui, April 2-4. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

MUSIC and the arts filled the air at the 21st outing for the Four Winds Festival held in Bermagui over the Easter long weekend – part one.

After a year’s hiatus because of COVID-19 restrictions, the Four Winds Festival was back stronger than before. This festival showcased many styles of music, dance, poetry, spoken word and more from across the artistic spectrum. The theme for this year’s festival was “Reconnect”, put together by a dedicated team and artistic director Lindy Hume.

Four Winds audience. Photo: Ben Marden.

Within the many programmed events, there were numerous performances from some of Australia’s leading musicians and artists. Every day saw a large number of people arrive early to get the best spots, but on the free Friday, there were more than expected. One volunteer commented, “I don’t know if they will all fit in”.

Each day, the audience was quiet and captivated, not just by the music and the art, but also by the atmosphere of the glorious surroundings. The amphitheatre pushed up the sound to the very top and beyond. I could hear a whisper from a performer.

The quality of the sound system and the setup for the Sound Shell by technicians from the Sydney Opera House had people amazed at how lifelike and well-balanced everything was.

After the welcome to country by local Yuin woman Iris White, the Friday free community day offered a range of relaxing events. There were Films in the Windsong Pavilion and a variety of singers and groups like the Djinama Yilaga Choir with Dr Lou Bennett in a session titled “Things Are Looking Up: Songs from Yuin Country”. And in the evening, the first of the epic three-night, three-hour long reading of Homer’s Iliad.

The New Graces. Photo: Ben Marden.

Saturday, The New Graces with Dr Lou Bennett kicked off the day with a set of their folk songs and stories. Midday saw the Goldner String Quartet take stage. Pieces by Ross Edwards, Pēteris Vasks, Beethoven’s “Heiliger Dankgesang” and Matthew Hindson.

The Edwards “White Cockatoo Spirit Dance” was particularly fitting for the surroundings. It jumped with movement and animation. That said, hearing a string quartet in the heart of nature is a profound experience. The deeply moving “String Quartet No.3” by Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks echoed with subtlety and a quiet, solemn nature. The Beethoven was even more solemn; its warmth and depth was something quite special.

Hindson’s String Quartet No.5, titled “Celebration”, was anything but. After it rambled through several effects with no real theme, it grew into something unique, yet it was more showy than musical. But the playing by Goldner was a task they pulled off wonderfully.

Djinama Yilaga Choir. Photo: Ben Marden.

After lunch, classical and contemporary works and poetry by festival artists which “focused the mind and the ear”, came next, titled “Shimmering Moments”. This included a clap-along for everyone to a happy tune from the Djinama Yilaga Choir. Also included was a new piece by Ross Edwards that had everyone swooning. “Haunted Springs” transfixed through its gentle cello and violin sounds.

Players from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra Fellowship under artistic director Roger Benedict followed with music from Missy Mazzoli, “Ecstatic Science”, Natalie Nicolas, “The Business of Recovery”, Caroline Shaw, Entr’acte string quartet and Holly Harrison’s “Jabberwock”. Most works showed just how far music has come from the days of atonalism and those highly experimental compositions. While still holding qualities of music from these days, this form of tonalism was much more approachable.

That “shock of the new” has dissipated into a more welcoming experience with an emphasis on beauty and storytelling through music. That said, while Shaw’s “Entr’acte” had some introspective moments, it was a hard listen, especially for a festival audience.

Sydney Dance Co. Photo: David Rogers Photography.

Harrison’s “Jabberwock” was a scream, literally. The players, like a small orchestra, were yelling out all sorts of things. The piece inspired by Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem was a riot of jazzy, dynamic sounds that slightly resembled “West Side Story.” I can see this becoming a concert hall favourite.

Sydney Dance Company performing “Cinco” by Rafael Bonachela wound up the day. They danced to a live performance of Alberto Ginastera’s “String Quartet No.2” by players from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra Fellowship. The audience were their quietest and stillest of the entire day; they were spellbound. But there was one more day to come.

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