I spent the weekend rediscovering the NSW city of Orange, enjoying bushwalking in Mt Canobolas’ sub-alpine forests, tasting plates in local wineries, fine accomodation with fresh figs from the farm’s orchard, and quiet wanderings through the town’s stunningly autumnal parks and gardens. This is a regional centre that, according to Carmen Nieves-Byrnes (Managing Director of the inaugural Orange Chamber Music Festival), “offers everything that Sydney has without the stress”, and now it also offers some truly awesome chamber music to add to your annual festival calendar…
THURSDAY – Opening Gala
Beginning on Thursday evening with the opening Gala concert (reviewed separately by classikON Ambassador Margaret Steinberger here) this new festival promised to showcase to an eager regional audience the top quality residential ensembles that Orange has to offer, as well provide new stages in a variety of unique venues for internationally renowned musicians.
FRIDAY – The city on show
On Friday the Chamber Academy students of the Orange Regional Conservatorium of Music were joined by the gathered professional musicians to perform Peter and the Wolf, conducted by Joanna Drimatis. What an incredible mentoring opportunity that must have been for these emerging players, one that many young musicians in bigger cities may take for granted. Unfortunately, arriving on the Friday evening of the festival, I didn’t see this one but I did arrive just in time to see Music at the Museum, in which two local musicians, violinist Lisa Stewart and flautist David Shaw, performed short duets and solos while moving in and around the modern museum’s displays. It was an interesting exhibition of Orange’s history that I would likely have missed if not for this event.
Moving just next door to the packed Orange Civic Theatre we were treated to an absolutely sizzling show, Tango de Saxos, by resident saxophone ensemble Nexas Quartet. Nattily dressed in velvet dinner jackets they regaled the audience with musical tales from the beginnings of the tango era in the 1920’s bordellos of Buenos Aries to the present day. We were then treated further, with the addition of two supreme talents of the genre Stephen Cutriss (bandoneon) and Daniel Rojas (piano) who added their own substantial dramatic flair to the program, which ended with an unusual and impressively intricate arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.
SATURDAY – Fun + formality
Time to enjoy Orange and its surrounds was built in to the festival schedule which I very much appreciated as farmer’s markets and local wineries were on my agenda. We reconvened in the early afternoon for an informal cocktail concert Mad Duos at the Madhatter Booze Co. The ‘mad duo’ were long time friends and collaborators, saxophonists Jay Byrnes and Niels Bijl who took us on an intimate and humorous romp through works that were, old, new, borrowed and blue, “After all,” explained Bijl, “a duet is very much like a marriage, right!?” From sax arrangements of duets originally composed for violin, flute and recorder by Bach, Telemann and Le Clair, to new works by Ross Edwards and Byrnes himself, these two musicians clearly enjoyed playing together and gave me a new respect for the saxophone as a classical wind instrument.
Acacia Quartet was the more formal offering of the day. For over ten years Lisa Stewart and Myee Clohessy (violins), Stefan Duwe (viola) and Anna Martin-Scrase (cello) have been dedicated to performing lesser known works of the genre. They began with Fanny Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E flat major which, from the serious and dark tone of the initial phrases to the brisk and emphatic ending, they played flawlessly and with great expression. This was followed by an emotive and harmonious work gifted by Australian composer Lyle Chan with whom Acacia Quartet has had a strong relationship over many years. For the final work the quartet welcomed young virtuoso Lloyd Van’t Hoff for Mozart’s well loved Clarinet Quintet. The constant subtle conversation between the players clearly illustrated how much they enjoy making music together, which was emerging as a central theme of this festival. The many ‘conversational’ duets between Stewart and Van’t Hoff particularly stood out but were always perfectly balanced by the whole ensemble. A well deserved standing ovation.
SUNDAY – Collegial collaborations
The dynamic, engaging Festival Winds (David Shaw – flute, Lloyd Van’t Hoff – clarinet, Frank Giraldo – oboe and Matthew Kneale – bassoon ‘rock god’) formed specifically for the festival and first played together just a few days before. Insightful narration from the players helped us navigate the works which ranged from Haydn to Jean Francaix via Malcom Arnold and newer works by Englishman Michael Finnissy and Australian Cyrus Meurant. While all the pieces were captivating, at times dazzling the audience with their musical acrobatics, the highlight for me was Finnissy’s unusual aleatoric ‘N’ in which the score instructs each part to be played from distant points around the concert hall at random, the musicians making their own choices as to when to enter, draw out or to hold back their written notes. Van’t Hoff explained that this style of ‘chance music’ is often described as like being in nature. It was, and it was sublime. I had to dash back to Sydney so sadly missed the evening’s festival closing gala dinner which featured Emily Granger on harp and Niels Bilj on saxophone, you can read more about this unusual yet beautiful musical coupling in Margaret’s review of the opening concert.
That’s a wrap!
For a small festival in its first year OCMF has achieved a lot – with most performances sold out it certainly brought a large number of people into the region and successfully showed that this is not a city to be overlooked for its culture and arts. In fact within two years a brand new $20 million building will become home to the now bursting at the seams Orange Regional Conservatorium of Music which will add a(nother) purpose built concert hall to the many venues this city has to offer. The combination of local artists, guest collaborations and variety of programming within each concert worked marvellously and gave the whole weekend a truly festive atmosphere. “I enjoyed every minute”, and ‘”sensational!” were some of the comments I overheard as I left the Conservatorium concert hall on Sunday afternoon.
Next year’s dates have been released so put 28th April to 1st May, 2022 in your diary. I’ve made a note to myself to book early – and pack a warm coat and a sense of musical adventure! I’m already looking forward to it.