House Concert 3

March 30, 2018

Five stars

Sound Shell Sunday

April 1, 2018

Four stars

The Four Winds Easter Festival commenced in 1991. Nine kilometres from the town of Bermagui, land owned by Carrillo Gantner has been developed into an impressive facility comprising an outdoor Sound Shell, its stage meeting a small dam, and on an upper level an impressive shoe-box shaped acoustically refined 180-seat room, the Windsong Pavilion. The vision of the Festival was the late Neilma Gantner’s (1922-2015), a fountain of life and enthusiasm to all who knew her.

The Festival is now a yearly event in the week leading up to and including the Easter long weekend. This is far more than a series of concerts, however, with a very deep engagement with the local community and particularly the Indigenous community (the Djiringanj people of the Yuin Nation). The Festival’s heart is a love of nature and a respect for the environment, education for everyone, sustainability, and the very highest quality music and performers, offered in a variety of indoor and especially outdoor venues. Spotted eucalyptus gums surround the venue and the ambience is enhanced by birdsong accompanying the outdoor performances. The festival has a casual feeling and is strong on hospitality. This is the first programmed by its new Artistic Director, Scottish classical accordionist James Crabb. Four Winds certainly punches above its weight in terms of commissioning new work with no less than five new works performed in five days.

Jack Liebeck and James Crabb. Photograph © Ben Marden

High on a hill in Tilba (meaning ‘many waters’ or ‘many winds’) north of Bermagui and overlooking a wide panorama of the Pacific Ocean sits Hill House designed by Australian architect Peter Stutchbury. Its intricately articulated metal roofline resembling integrated aeroplane wings is designed both to be visually spectacular but also to deflect the intense coastal winds. The property looks east to the ocean and west over rolling, green farmland towards the sacred Gulaga (Mother) Mountain. It was in this impressive space that House Concert 3 in the Four Winds 2018 Easter Festival took place, a program of English and French chamber music. We began and ended with improvised busking music by John Banister from the 17th century. Debussy’s evocative and freely timed Syrinx (originally entitled La Flûte de Pan) was superbly evoked by Ariel Zuckermann (flute). He returned with James Crabb (accordion) in a nicely shaped and responsive arrangement of JS Bach’s Flute Sonata in B minor, BWV 1030. The highlight of the program, however, was Camille Saint-Saëns’s most elegant Fantasie for violin and harp, Op 124 brilliantly performed by Jack Liebeck (violin) and Alice Giles (harp), the sonority and texture of Liebeck’s 1785 Guadagnini violin a balm to the ear.

Sound Shell Sunday started with The Song Company singing selections from the Dow Partbooks (137 works by various Tudor composers contained in four volumes). This quasi-theatrical performance imagined a dinner party in 1580 between five composer/singers hosted by William Byrd whereby works are sung one after the other as entertainment between friends and with comments on successful achievement or otherwise, toasts and jokes. The ensemble was seated behind table before wine goblets and sang through repertoire ranging from love songs – ­sometimes a soloist with the rest of the ensemble cleverly imitating lute or other instrumental ensembles ­– to the solemn Lamentations of Jeremiah. On this bright and sunny Easter Australian morning it was a pleasure to hear the breath of voices rising to the treetops though overall the performance was a static visual experience as we watched five singers for over an hour sitting behind a table reading intensely from their partbooks as they shared understandably lost Latin jokes. There was variance of ability within the ensemble ranging from a wonderfully true bass to an irregular high tenor.

Later Arvo Pärt’s Fratres for strings and percussion floated in the air amongst the random calls of bell birds while Julian Smiles gave a truly outstanding performance of Peteris Vasks’ Cello Concerto No 2 Klatbutne (Presence) with a string orchestra from the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) well led by Dimity Hall. Vasks’ explanation of the word ‘presence’ as ‘by which I mean that I am here. I am not distant. With every breath I am here in this world, with all my ideals and dreams of a better world’ had a strong resonance with the ethos of the Festival.  This large work’s performance was profound and deeply satisfying.

Damian Barbeler with MC Guy Noble. Photograph © Ben Marden

The much-anticipated first performance of Australian Damian Barbeler’s Visiting Eucalyptus was a principal event of the day. The composer describes how he feels connected to the tradition established by Peter Sculthorpe, Richard Meale and Nigel Butterley from the 1960s in searching for a voice to respond to Australia’s unique landscape and believes that this commentary needs to continue. He sees an exciting and new response is possible from looking at the environment purely as it is and without any former reference. A student of Gerard Brophy, also commissioned for this Festival, Barbeler in conjunction with Tim Jetis accompanied this first performance with an exhibition in the town of Bermagui as well as a book, website and film. ‘Bark panoramas’ are 360-degree images of the circumference of Eucalyptus trees presented in large format inside paper cylinders. Barbeler interprets the “breathtaking contrast” of the genus of the Eucalyptus as a metaphor, a “celebration and investigation” of the Australian identity. The shapes and textures of the smooth lemon-scented gum through to the grisly and creviced ironbark provide the inspiration and directly influences the composition that proceeds as a slowly changing backdrop of tonal cells with surface material developed in turn in the foreground by combinations of an eclectic overall instrumentation (violin, cello, guitar, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, piano, classical accordion and two percussionists).  An extensive violin cadenza (finely realised by Dene Olding) leads to the instruments returning gradually to once again form the constant backdrop.  The work was enjoyably intricate with its combinations of textures and sonorities though when playing together the guitar became inaudible.

This excellent event goes from strength to strength with plans to expand into performances, residencies and education programs throughout the year.

The Four Winds 2018 Easter Festival ran from March 26 – April 1. David Barmby was a guest of the festival

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