The Mornington Peninsula is usually alive with the sound of music at this time of year, but the continuing impact of the pandemic means that this year’s Peninsula Summer Music Festival looks a little different.
Artistic director and oboist Ben Opie is hosting five videos of short performances performed over five days at some of the Victorian peninsula’s beautiful locations. The videos are available on YouTube.
There’s a wide variety of music on offer, from the mellow jazz of Andrea Keller and her trio to lute music from the courts of Versailles.
Small is beautiful could well be the catch-cry of Opie’s Inventi Ensemble, six chamber musicians who specialise in performing large scale works. Filming their version of Dvorak’s New World Symphony, arranged by Glynn Davies, at Main Ridge Estate was not without its problems – the pandemic of course, a freak lightning storm causing delays and even an earthquake on the day of the recording.
The six players – Opie, oboe, Melissa Doecke, flute, Cameron Burnes, bassoon, Kyla Matsuura-Miller, violin, William Murray, viola, and Stephanie Stamopoulos, cello – generate enough skill and verve to fool you into thinking that you are hearing a full orchestra.
Lutenist Nicholas Pollock unpacks his theorbo to play Robert de Visee’s La Royale Suite in A minor at the picturesque Moorooduc Estate. The composer was a lutenist and viol player at the courts of Louis XXIV and XXV and as the slow and elegant Prelude unfolds, through the window we see a tame peacock wandering around the vineyard. This, along with Pollock’s beard and moustache and dark long curly hair, lend an air of period authenticity to de Visee’s masterpiece.
It is a rare treat to hear the theorbo – so often overshadowed by its little brother the tenor lute – break out from its usual continuo role to show us all its glory with those wonderful resonating bass strings.
Pianist-composer Ian Munro plays his suite Letter To A Friend at St John’s Anglican Church, Flinders, where the performance on a gorgeous C. Bechstein grand is complemented by David Wright’s stunning new stained glass windows, not to mention a family of birds nesting in the church’s ceiling.
Based on the theme of friendship and Munro’s interest in the poet Judith Wright’s portrayals of the Australian landscape, the three pieces were written originally for voice and piano. The top-of-the-keyboard flourishes of The Light Falls from the Sky suggest shards of sunlight – or possibly shooting stars and meteor showers – and is dedicated to his friend Howard Penny, whom he first met in Vienna and worked with at the ANAM.
The turbulent I Sat Here by the River – a reflection on the tragedy and loss of a friendship – feels quite menacing at times.
Black is the Night, a suitably dark piece, was written for another friend, Richard Tognetti, at the time he was celebrating his 20th anniversary as Artistic Director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra.
Two short pieces showcase the prodigious talents of recorder virtuoso Genevieve Lacey and harpist Marshall McGuire in a 10-minute video made at Port Phillip Estate. Both works feature on their new album Bower.
Threaded in amongst the infinite threading, composed by percussionist Bree van Reyk, features Lacey playing a contrabass recorder taller than she is. Its percussive effects over a dissonant harp motif summons up the buzz and spirit of the beehive, while birdsong is a feature when she switches to the soprano recorder, augmented by McGuire’s scratching effects using a wooden block on the top strings of the harp.
The John Rodgers work Birds for Genevieve closes the brief program. Some of his birdsong pieces written for Lacey featured on her beautiful Weaver of Fictions album. For this one recorder and harp vie with each other in a fascinating duet filmed before an enormous window looking out on the rolling green slopes of the estate.
For lovers of jazz there is a delightful 20 minute show featuring The Transients Jazz Trio at Peninsula Hot Springs, Fingal, with Andrea Keller on keyboard; Sam Anning, bass and Julien Wilson, saxophone. The Transients are a series of trios pianist composer Keller put together to showcase some of Melbourne’s, and Australia’s, top jazz talent. The collective approach is reflected not just in the playing but also the composing.
Wilson’s Kure Atoll opens the set, featuring his breathy, melodic and mellow tenor sax underpinned by the subtle rhythmic changes of Anning’s stand-up bass, anchored by Keller’s floating chords on electronic keyboard. Anning’s piece Quake is low on the Richter scale with Wilson riffing over a rocking bass and Keller’s alternating chords.
Third and last is Keller’s Hope is the Thing with Feathers. Anning sets it up with a lovely bass solo before Wilson and Keller take it over with soaring solos and duets. The whole song has a life-affirming feel to it as the lilting tune gently takes flight.
Top-class approachable jazz guaranteed to put you in a hopeful mood.
See the full details of this year’s performances on the Peninsula Summer Music Festival website.