The Stradbroke Chamber Music Festival
For some, the idea of chamber music evokes plush salons and formal concert halls – capital C Culture in capital C Cities. For others, it evokes a turquoise ocean; stretches of white sandy beach; a sea breeze; rustling she-oaks; and the occasional surprise accompaniment of a friarbird, wattlebird, lorikeet, or gull. This, along with the extraordinary line up of capital T Talent, is what makes the Stradbroke Chamber Music Festival unique.
Under the direction of violinist Rachel Smith, the festival offers an exhilarating program of diverse chamber music. A central core of much loved masterpieces – by Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms – never fails to delight chamber music fans. But Smith understands the true nature of chamber music, popularly known as intimate music of friends. So, if you choose to attend all six concerts in the festival, over two nights and two days of a shimmering late winter weekend, you can expect to be charmed by Smith’s personal touches. With an astonishing network of Australian and international artists, she delivers a vibrant program of chamber music new and old, in exceptional settings – a smattering of small island halls that offer a morning or evening concert a stone’s throw from the beach; a surf club that offers a spectacular ocean sunset before an intimate night of ‘something different’.
A festival attendee since 2009, I can assure that few of the concerts go without a standing ovation!
– Jocelyn Wolfe
Impressions of the 2015 Stradbroke Chamber Music Festival
The musicians said: ‘We love it!’ Audience members whispered: ‘We’d rather be here than in a big, formal concert hall; this is far more relaxed and personal; we get close-up with world-class performances in this magical place – what more could you want?’
Talk about community engagement – Islanders have said: ‘We’re so lucky to have this on Straddie; it’s wonderful that the festival coincides this year with the Quandamooka Festival.’
So – yet another success. The festival’s Artistic Director, Rachel Smith, excels in devising a new theme each year and then expertly matching music and musicians to create a fascinating program that seems to bring the best from everyone. This year, ‘Diversity’ was the key: a tantalising mix of heritage and history in musicians, islanders and visitors, music and instruments, and the natural diversity of the wonderfully endowed concert stage that is North Stradbroke Island.
So many composers and musical styles were represented that no brief review could do them justice, nor are there enough superlatives for the range of techniques and feelings evoked – from exquisite, to resounding, to just plain beautiful. It was a delight to be in the audience as the musicians displayed their individual mastery as well as their wonderful rapport.
Rachel Smith, Sophie Rowell, Caroline Henbest, Louise King and Eric de Wit are familiar faces at the festival. Others visit periodically, while Cyril Garac from Paris and Maggie Ferguson from Sydney played this year on Straddie for the first time.
Maggie’s bandoneon added a true tango touch to Cyril’s brilliance on the violin in the ‘Tango!’ concert at the packed-out Life Saving Club on Saturday evening (with whales on view from the balcony for pre-concert drinks). With a full complement of other festival players, this program had beguiling rhythms, complex musical layers, captivating precision dancing in beautiful costumes (there were demonstration dancers!) and loads of fun. Throughout the weekend, Cyril wooed audiences and fellow-musicians alike with his captivating Gallic manner, and in pieces by Chausson, Ravel and Stravinsky he wonderfully demonstrated that his violin talents extend much further than his particular passion for tango music.
But the stand-out performer had to be Paul Hankinson. First he spent the week before the festival collaborating with students of Dunwich State School in developing a special school song, ‘We Are One’, that they premiered at a public performance in the school library. Then, at the opening concert of the festival on Friday night, they did it again, joined by the festival musicians, the Stradbroke Island Singers and students from the Conservatorium who also spent a week working with the musicians through the Jani Haenke Young Musicians project. Everyone loved it! Tears flowed.
But there was more from Paul. With the help of a RADF grant, he had been commissioned to write a new work for the festival. The result, ‘To Cross the Bay’ for piano and string quartet, told a musical story of the piano’s journey across Moreton Bay to, around and home from the island. This fitting finale – adventurous, evocative, lilting, funky and more, all rolled into one amazing piece – brought rapturous applause and a standing ovation, plus an encore. Absolute justification for funding support.
What other festival setting allows the audience to listen to musicians ‘on stage’ with a backdrop of trees, wildlife, sunshine and glittering sea?
Where else could a kookaburra announce the start of a Bach cello suite?
Come to the Stradbroke Chamber Music Festival in 2016 and find out for yourself!
– Judy Schubert