“BRING in a honeypot, and the bees will come,” virtuoso flautist Ana de la Vega says of the new $20 million Snow Concert Hall, which opens its doors for the first time on Saturday at Canberra Grammar School.
She’s probably right for musicians, organisations and festival are already buzzing around at news of the 900+ capacity, two-floor concert hall, which features state-of-the-art acoustic features that are already attracting musicians not just from Canberra and around Australia, but from across the world.
Funded privately by businessman, philanthropist and Canberra Grammar old boy, Terry Snow, the hall sits prominently between the traditional headmaster’s office and teachers quarters at the front entrance.
On hand at the school to announce the launch of the Snow Concert Hall International Series, was the Australian-Argentine international flute star Ana de la Vega, who has been appointed artistic director not by Canberra Grammar, but by an external organisation, Snow Concert Hall Enterprises.
The coming series will comprise a set of four performances featuring luminaries such as jazz master Wynton Marsalis, pianists Piers Lane and Simon Tedeschi and violin player Daniel Röhn.
But de la Vega said “lots of other things are cooking” and that she’d be announcing further concerts at roughly six-week intervals, including an end-of-year event.
At one point she whipped out her flute for a dazzling version of the “Habanera” from “Carmen” to show us the perfect acoustic of the Snow Hall and to illustrate her discovery that it would be perfect for aria evenings in the future.
“This acoustic is outstanding, the feeling as a performer is absolutely wonderful,” de la Vega enthused after she had performed a short taster of works by Debussy, Massenet and Doppler with pianist Anthony Smith and rising flautist, Ilona Gray.
De la Vega’s dramatic, vivacious style of performance foreshadowed the coming performance tomorrow, when she will take centre stage in her very first orchestral concert, playing a mixed repertoire of Mozart, Elgar, Vivaldi and Stamitz with the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra.
“I’ve been lucky, I’ve been 16 years in Europe, I have performed at the best halls in Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris and at the Liszt Ferenc Academy in Budapest – that’s why musicians go to Budapest – so I can say that this hall is a great gift to Canberra,” she said.
It might be a “hall-within-a-school,” but, she said, these days great music halls are everywhere in universities and schools overseas so we can expect the Snow Concert Hall to become one of the most sought-after venues in the country.
De la Vega, who said she was never supposed to be a flautist but had fallen into it by accident at age seven, described herself as “a simple Aussie farm girl,” adding: “ I don’t wear shoes when I’m performing.” There was no sign of that.
But a lot has happened since her child on Saddleback Mountain near Jamberoo, as she has enjoyed a brilliant career as a soloist in Europe for almost two decades, so much so that she imagined she’d stay there forever until during covid and she repatriated. “Something flicked, and I thought I’d come back to Australia.”
The artistic directorship position is a full-time job, and de la Vega plans to move to Canberra from her hometown Kiama permanently with her two young children as soon as possible.
With an eye on young artists, she has lots of plans in terms of education and told us the story of Ilona Gray, a former student with school of the air, whose mother contacted de la Vega on Instagram during covid, leading to classes online and a transformation that saw her achieving perfect scores in the HSC last year. To demonstrate her student’s achievements, de la Vega performed Franz Doppler’s “Andante et rondo” duet with Gray on the spot.
De La Vega has come up with an extraordinary number of stars in the inaugural Snow season, with jazz great Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra, Piers Lane, “the Godfather of Australian piano”, and Berlin violin prodigy, Daniel Röhn.
It’s no secret, she told me, that while in Germany she had worked as an artistic manager for three different agencies, so used her considerable networks.
Most of her contacts, she said, were by text or FaceTime. She’d met Lane at an event 12 years ago and reminded him of it and in a stroke of luck.
As well, she’d become friends with Marsalis’ touring manager, called him up and said: “ I know you’re coming to Australia; I have a new hall.”
Not only was the reaction positive but that they wanted somewhere to rehearse, so they’ll come to Grammar for six days before the performance on a residency that will include open master classes.
And will this slow De la Vega down in her very busy international performing career? Not a bit of it.
She’s made five trips overseas already this year, and says that when it comes to administration, “airport lounges are the best places.”
Snow Concert Hall International Series at a glance:
Melbourne Chamber Orchestra with Ana la Vega, 7pm, Saturday, May 20;
Piers Lane, piano, 7pm, Thursday, June 29;
Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra, 7pm, August 17;
Daniel Röhn and Simon Tedeschi, Golden 20s-era gems, date TBC.
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