Orange Chamber Music Festival 2023
March 9 to 12, 2023 | Orange, NSW
It was a nostalgic experience driving to the Central West of NSW as I was a regular at the Mudgee Music Festival for 20 years. The two festivals are quite different however with the Orange Chamber Music Festival being spread out over many venues and, at least on this occasion, featuring only Australian artists. Orange is of course a beautiful city – even more so when the hills are snow-covered.
A huge delay on the highway meant that we arrived seconds before the Gala concert on Friday evening – Camerata, Queensland’s chamber orchestra played the familiar Serenade for strings by Tchaikovsky and the slightly less known Introduction and Allegro for strings by Elgar – in between we were treated to a Concerto for Baritone saxophone by Sydney based composer Nicholas Russoniello. This demonstrated the capabilities of this rarely heard instrument and included engagement with the audience by soloist Jay Byrnes and some audience participation. After the interval, we heard Elegy by Robert Davidson, a serene piece, classical in nature and all too short. The orchestra was on excellent form, enthusiastic and accurate.
We were able to renew our acquaintance with Jay Byrnes at The Old Convent fifteen kilometres away in Borenore at lunch the next day. Together with Stephen Cuttriss on Bandoneon, and using three saxophones he played Latin American music, particularly Tangos by Astor Piazzolla but also adaptations from J.S. Bach.The story goes that when Piazzolla visited famous teacher and conductor Nadia Boulanger, she listened to his compositions and said “Forget those symphonies, just concentrate on Tangoes!”, which of course he did. I wonder what she would have said to JSB whose music is so surprisingly amenable to “jazzing up”. A great venue in a converted chapel with great interaction from both performers.
Earlier, we heard Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise – written near the end of his life it relates the innermost thoughts of a wanderer after the breakdown of a love affair. Based on poetry by Wilhelm Muller, it is introspective but not always sad. With twenty four songs,it is not short and it is often given an interval – few would follow the example of Clara Schumann who played the entire “Moonlight Sonata”! For us, Vatche Jambazian played Schubert’s Moment Musical No 3 while baritone David Greco took a couple of well-earned breaths. Sung with great feeling by David and the accompanist was faultless. One felt transported to another world in which the “Hurdy-Gurdy Man” still whines.
To the Orange Regional Conservatorium in the evening to hear the Orava Quartet – based in Brisbane, this quartet has established a well-earned international reputation for its flair and interpretations. On this occasion, they were also fashionistas, particularly regarding their socks! Nordic folk music as researched and arranged by the Danish String Quartet made for easy listening though some songs sounded more Scottish than Scandinavian – perhaps the Vikings stole them from Iona! Erwin Schulhoff is an underrated composer and his five pieces were discordant but dramatic and approachable. Mendelssohn’s A minor quartet is my favourite – when I heard it unannounced on the radio, I mistook it for Beethoven’s work and certainly Felix was in awe of that composer’s late quartets. The four musicians never missed a beat and the audience was transfixed.
Lastly, we heard members of the Australian Romantic and Classical Orchestra playing at a rather cramped venue. I have heard numerous pieces by Hummel a prominent contemporary of Beethoven and student of Mozart. Usually with Hummel my feeling is “He hasn’t quite got it, has he!” Well I really enjoyed this clarinet quartet including the second movement unusually inserted before the Andante with varied time signatures and nicknamed ‘The Bother’ because of this. The Andante itself had a haunting theme while the Rondo was inventive and engaging – perhaps my attitude towards the composer will change. Mozart’s clarinet quintet is of course very familiar and proved a great backdrop to the weekend – played with verve, if not technically perfectly, it highlighted my enjoyment of the Festival.
I do not envy the task of a music programmer. Who wants to hear just Beethoven, Schumann and Tchaikovsky but there again who wants to hear only Stockhausen and Berio!? The programming for this festival was nothing short of fantastic – well-known works but not hackneyed alternated with modern and less well known compositions which were without exception interesting and enjoyable and, yes, educative. A huge round of applause for the organisers.