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
Stradbroke Chamber Music Festival 2018: another triumph
The ‘America meets Russia’ theme of this year’s Stradbroke Chamber Music Festival seemed uncannily topical, given that planning would have begun as soon as last year’s festival was over. But the magic of the music soon dispelled any intrusive thoughts of Trump and Putin. The focus was on the contrast between American optimism and Russian nostalgia as expressed in music, and on the inspiration composers often gain from the musical heritage of other cultures.
The performances were wonderful, the weather smiled, and I was fortunate enough to be staying on Straddie for a whole week, with leisurely time after the festival to process what I’d experienced. There had been so many memorable impressions, from the expectant hush at the opening concert as violinist and Artistic Director Rachel Smith prepared to give the upbeat, to the moment when she stood before us to give her closing votes of thanks, with her baby girl cocooned against her chest.
There was the startling piece in that first concert by modern American composer Michael Daugherty, in which recorded pronouncements by J. Edgar Hoover were set to eerie, disturbing music. The luscious Rachmaninov trio that preceded it. The American popular songs, arranged and accompanied on the piano by Paul Hankinson, and beautifully sung by Kate Miller-Heidke – with her comic rendition of ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ sending us out into the night afterwards with broad smiles on our faces.
Next morning, rippling preludes for solo piano by Debussy, juxtaposed with the intricately flowing shapes of Kate Moore’s compositions. The cabaret-style performance at the Surf Club on the Saturday evening, displaying Kate Miller-Heidke’s engaging personality and agile voice, the impressive guitar-playing of Keir Nuttall and the versatility of the festival’s string players. The Saint-Saëns sonata for bassoon and piano. Mozart’s exquisite flute quartet. I loved it all.
But for me the pinnacle was on the Sunday morning, with Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, played in its original version as a suite for thirteen instruments and led superbly by violinist Zoë Black. I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a performance of the piece so much. It was as if the musicians had all played together in that specific combination for years. The result was truly marvellous, and exemplified something that had been evident throughout the festival: the empathy and mutual respect between the artists.
How fortunate we were to have such a line-up of world-class musicians to play for us, and in so beautiful an environment. But they wouldn’t have been there without the creativity and tireless work of Rachel Smith and the dedicated team of organisers. All of them deserve the highest praise.
There’s an image from this year’s festival that will stay with me for a long time. It’s of Kate Miller-Heidke making her way across Home Beach towards her husband and little son, who are building a sandcastle. She’s wearing a sarong and a big straw hat and is singing for the sheer joy of it. That seems to me to sum up the Stradbroke Chamber Music Festival.
– Barbara McKenzie