The director of the Canberra International Music Festival shares why narrative is at the heart of his approach.

You may know him as one of Australia’s most eminent conductors and pianists, but Roland Peelman is also a supremely gifted storyteller. During his 25-year tenure leading a cappellavocal ensemble, The Song Company, the thoughtful and thought provoking became the trademark qualities of his programming, and this aptitude for spinning a narrative is something Peelman continues to channel as the Artistic Director of the Canberra International Music Festival. For his inaugural offering last year, Peelman got the neurons of festivalgoers firing with a selection inspired by the centenary of Einstein’s cosmos-defining General Theory of Relativity.

In ways both overt and subtle, this momentous scientific discovery offered a fascinating lens through which discoveries of a musical nature could be made, unifying the array of performances while never being overly insistent about this narrative undertow. As Peelman notes: “One of the most important things when programming a festival is allowing a degree of freedom. The audience should feel empowered to make choices, empowered to decide how much or how little of these thematic concepts they acknowledge. As long as they are emotionally,...