November marked the 30th and final Huntington Estate Music Festival. It had become interwoven with so many parts of my life.
My first festival was in 2007, when I was 33. I was terrified before that festival. The main theme going through my mind, after “what do you wear?”, was “will I be able to enjoy eight concerts in five days?”. My grandpa had asked me to come and was pretty useless at answering these two questions, so other than some consultation with mum, I mostly winged it. His excuse for inviting me; at his age he should have a family member there in case something happened, but he didn’t need me for that.
It worked, because I was hooked after that first festival.
This was the first way it became part of my life, it was part of the annual tradition of buying tickets and confirming my reservation at the Ningana Motel. When I arrived with grandpa for my first festival, he stood in front of the Ningana Motel and said, “I’ve been staying here for two decades and it hasn’t changed”. I was in Room 8 for every festival, except one. Each year it did change, an annual upgrade and fun ritual to work out what the new thing was. On checking out this time the owner said there should be a Tribe plaque. It felt strange not pre-booking for 2020.
Many can be recalled by weather events. There was the year it was too wet and Mudgee sold out of gumboots. The year that it was suddenly colder than everyone planned and we bought every warm thing we could. Perhaps this one was too dry. That was until after the last performance, then there was many a wet eye.
Obviously, many festivals were also marked with specific performances and I’m sure each person had their own list.
Some of my music highlights are:
- Alina Ibragimova (2007) performed a solo which incorporated a wonderful conversation with a bird outside. She was such a serious musician, it was great to see her personality with the surprise guest performer.
- Guy Johnston (cello) and Andrew Meisel (double bass) duet in 2011.
- Witnessing 20-year-old Armenian Clarinetist, Narek Arutyunian at the 2012 festival, grow into the atmosphere with each performance. He had a wonderful sparkle of individuality which the audience loved.
- This festival was Alexander Gavrylyuk performing Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition, which you can listen to here.
- The knowledge that each festival would have a wonderful octet performed by two of the string quartets; and two pianists doing a four hands, particularly when Ian Munro was at the festival, because you could see how much he loved performing them. Goldner String Quartet and Australian String Quartet combining for the octet this year by Jakub Jankowski was excellent!
Many of these standout performances, if you saw on an individual concert program, you may have not purchased tickets, but I probably would now.
There was also an an incorporation of art and local community, which was fantastic.
- A scattering of sculpture added to the atmosphere, and many of us have purchased for our own garden.
- A local producers market on the Saturday which many years solved my Christmas list before December had started.
- The raffle provided educational opportunities for local children and we could see them perform on the weekend. Many festivals had a concert for children which was lovely to witness.
- It was at the festival that my desire to start a business like classikON formed. There needed to be a way for independent groups performing in unique spaces to have a greater voice and for audiences to easily discover them.
- At every festival I was asked if I was a musician, and sparked a competition in 2013. I had always wanted to wear a t-shirt with, “No I’m not a musician, I just happen to like it”, so we ran a competition for a phrase to put on a t-shirt. The winning phrase, I’m not sure when to clap either was launched with three designs early the following year and for a few festivals a crew of classikON supporters wore the t-shirts on the Sunday.
- There has also been inter-weaving of classikON team and the festival. One of our current Ambassadors, Heath Auchinachie was a young Mudgee musician who performed in a community concert. Pepe, who has been part of our core team for years, came this year.
classikON and Huntington are linked for me
One of the biggest gifts grandpa gave me was enjoying classical music and the festival was an annual reminder. His passing had public farewells, but for me the 2010 festival was where I said farewell to him, and introduced my cousin to it. She went on to join me at almost every festival.
I have always preferred amber over red, white or rose and so I’m wondering if I’m most upset that the last festival was timed with welcoming the Mt Buckaroo Brew Co. The next festival when it was too hot, would have been great to enjoy their ale!
The music was wonderful, as were the chats, friends, wine and food. Over the years it became a community that knew they were part of a shared special experience. Thanks Huntington Estate Wines and Musica Viva Australia for the music, memories and friendships, and to Bob Roberts and Richard Tognetti for creating it before that.
Are you still wondering about enjoying eight concerts in five days?
Obviously I loved it, and being a November festival, and a test cricket tragic, I also liked that the festival marked the end of the musical year for me (and a great excuse to avoid Christmas Carols). I could pick it up again in March, but December, January and February are for cricket.
In terms of a holiday, the best part of the festival was the removal of decision making and something that was very unique about this festival. Over time traditions were created, but also it was an all inclusive event – you literally arrived, heard music, ate and drank, slept… on repeat from Wednesday evening until Sunday lunch. If you had afternoon naps this was even more true.
What will we do in 2020?
This was a regular topic at this festival. At classikON we’ve been putting together a list of festivals and will share them next week. There were many we discussed wanting to try, but I’ve not found one that is as immersive as Huntington. And for that, I will miss it dearly in my annual calendar.
The list of 50 festivals in 2020 is here