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Canberra Today 1°/6° | Monday, May 20, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Peelman comes Alive for his final festival 

Artistic director Roland Peelman… “Putting a program together is about giving the audience something to ponder.” Photo: Peter Hislop

When it comes to choosing themes, retiring director of the Canberra International Music Festival Roland Peelman is notoriously cavalier.

But for his final one he’s adopted a more serious tone, titling the event “Mulanggari” (Alive). 

“Retiring” is hardly the word for Peelman, who is as ebullient as ever as he describes what’s coming up in early May.

“Mulanggari”, which has the same meaning in both Ngambri and Ngunnawal, is also the name of a work in the NGA sculpture garden created by Matilda and Paul Girrawah House.

“I wanted to pick an indigenous word,” Peelman tells me, “so I consulted indigenous people.”

“Music is nothing when it’s a score, just paper, it only comes alive when it’s played by musicians and post-covid we are all happy to bring live music before real people.”

Alive, he says, also refers to “a culture which is much bigger than us and which is alive and kicking”.

To that end, the concert High Stakes at the High Court features didgeridoo artist William Barton and his mum Delmae Barton, telling their story. 

On the final night of Mulanggari, Nadia Simpson and Kaleena Briggs of the Stiff Gins, will perform commissioned arrangements of their work in a concert that also features works by Canberra composer Brenda Gifford.

“Putting a program together is about giving the audience something to ponder… at the end of the day, we are a music festival and music is what, in the moment, you hear and don’t forget,” says Peelman.

The opening concert will be Lior’s poignant work, Compassion, orchestrated by Nigel Westlake. Never before heard in Canberra because a planned CSO performance was cancelled during the pandemic, it sees Lior singing life-affirming words taken from Arabic and Jewish prayers.

Another highlight will be Red Dirt Hymns, written by Andrew Ford, who asked 20 living poets to write a poem and wrote tunes, sent them to singers and told them to do what they liked with them. Canberra’s Luminescence will join guitarist Hilary Geddes and cellist Freya Schack-Arnott to perform 16 of the songs before a visual backdrop by local artist Sammy Hawker.

Naturally, there’s an international component to the festival, with the inclusion of Trio Karénine from France, Holland’s Dudok Quartet Amsterdam, Bulgarian guitarist Pavel Ralev and young Belgian pianist Bram De Looze.

As well, the return of Bach Akademie Australia playing all six Brandenburg concerti over two concerts. That, Peelman predicts, will be cause for “unfettered joy”.

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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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