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Australian Festival of Chamber Music Townsville

August 6, 2012

What a delicious time I have had, eight days at the Australian Chamber Music Festival in Townsville on a rich diet of classical music and sun, sun, sun, although the mornings and nights were cool it was on average 21 -24 degrees. I was lucky enough to find a charming B and B Classique Bed and Breakfast an 1890s classic Queenslander, with lofty ceilings and just three guest suites all decorated in Federation style. My hosts Iva and Russell could not have been more helpful or nurturing. Russell a chef by training, cooked me morning and afternoon tea cakes that were irresistible.

The Australian Festival of Chamber Music is a serious focused festival of 12 days duration with some of the best international talent thanks to the connections of Piers Lane the Director of the Festival. To me it is the jewel in the crown of all Queensland’s Arts Festivals. What makes it so special is its camaraderie and its dynamic charming director, Australian’s most well known internationally renowned pianist Piers Lane and his supportive team headed by Sue Hackett. This festival was an exciting one with a wonderful variety of programs and events including a trip to Orpheus Island, sunset concert.

Piers, like God, seemed to be everywhere at once. If he wasn’t playing on stage with the remarkable Kathryn Stott who plays with Yo-Yo Ma, he was chatting on stage to a panel of musicians in 10am Conversations where we heard some wonderful colourful anecdotes and through Piers probing questions, we understood more of the musicians personalities. There Piers was again before and during intermission and after concerts chatting personally to audience members with his indefatigable energy and enthusiasm and his engaging youthful smile. His signature socks were as always colourful, they seem to be fluorescent particularly on stage, stripes one night, harlequins the next. At a musical charity function in New Zealand recently a pair of Piers socks sold for $4000.

This festival took you through a leisurely stroll of the past few hundred years of traditional classical music repertoire, performed alongside 20th- and 21-century works. Most of the visiting artists stayed the week playing in various combinations during the three a day concerts. In this varied festival of music there was not a weak spot.

Why do we like the things we like in music? I sat next to ABC Limelight critic Clive Paget during Nigel Westlake’s composition String Quartet No 2 in Four Movements. Nigel Westlake was Composer in Residence to the Festival. I found the composition discordant and jarring, Clive liked its complexity. I found some of Nigel Westlake’s other compositions moving and imaginative especially Piano Trio in Three Movements played by the Storioni trio. I liked the Australian composer Peggy Glanville Hicks Harp Sonata in Three Movements with Melbourne born international harpist Marshall McGuire. Hicks apparently wrote an opera Sappho for Maria Callas which was never performed but Clive Paget tells me we will soon see it in production.

Some of the highlights for me were the Dutch Storioni Trio minus Wouter Vossen the violinist who broke his shoulder and was replaced by the very capable, attractive Adelaide violinist Natsuko Yoshimoto who wore exquisitely elegant stiletto heeled shoes. Who could not help fall in love with the soulful cellist Marc Vossen from this delightful youthful trio. The very personable and talented Canadian violinist Barry Shiffman who let me share his cab car after I had missed the festival morning bus, Caroline Almonte’s Golderg Variations were as magical to me as always. Camerata of St John – Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra were a revelation particularly the frenetic rhythms and sensuous harmonies of the Bartok Divertimento for Strings BB118. The international Canadian flautist Lorna McGhee- her Syrinx by Claude Debussy was a complete joy and an appropriate celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Debussy’s birth.

The absolute standout for me was the engaging, and amusing, Norwegian violinist Atle Sponberg who studied in Buenos Aires with the legendary violinist Soares Paz. He played a spirited and steamy Piazzolla expertly leading Camerata of St John’s and Kathyrn Stott (piano) and giving us a quirky commentary – a funny, cabaret-style history of the tango. Sponberg also played Variations on a Theme by Corelli in the style of Tartini by Fritz Kreisler with pianist Kathryn Stott. The festival celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Kreislers death. My only regret is missing William Barton Australia’s most notable didgeridoo player who played at Marianne Baillieu’s funeral here in Melbourne a few months ago. (see Post)

In Townsville despite the sun there was a cold wind and I could not keep a hat on with out a hat pin. Airline security does not let me travel with hat pins, I investigated antique shops in Townsville and ended up buying two vintage hat pins and a further four vintage hats plus the three I had brought with me.

I found two exquisite hats that had been stored away for over 30 years with Joelle Fleming who is the French owner of The Speckled Hen Antiques shop and she gave me a fascinating account of the provenance of these hats that made me love them even more. (You will read about it in my upcoming hat book) I did find a lovely old Royal Stetson at the Townsville Restoration Lighting shop. I redesigned the stetson by adding a black veil that I wore to the concert that night.

On Tuesday I went to Magnetic Island to meet Mary Clark and Liz. I was fortunate enough to be invited to lunch by long term Magnetic Island resident Liz. Sitting out on the terrace I kept hearing a mobile phone. Liz explained it was a phone bird. Apparently her neighbour has a very clever eclectic parrot that mimics a mobile phone as he has observed that his owner only pays attention to the sound of his mobile phone. Liz took us to some of the stunning isolated beaches with the sculptural natural stone formations that are so characteristic of the island’s coastline.

A day before I went to Magnetic Island Nicholas the son of a friend Julie Osborne had a close encounter with a sea turtle. “I noticed this two foot sea turtle stranded on the reef out of the water. He must have become stuck there when the tide had gone out (pretty big tides on Magnetic Island). The tide had been out for a couple of hours and he looked very dry and worn out. I was about 500 metres from anyone else on the beach and the little guy was about 100 meters from the water so I decided to tie the cord of my camera onto the wax comb cord on the back of my board shorts and carry him back over the reef to the water. I managed to take this photo of him and then splash some water over him and stop him from dehydrating in the sun. It was about 25 degrees and quite warm.

My only concern about picking him up and carrying him was that he might bite me. Turned out he just looked at me with one eye and didn’t really even move. I carried him back over the reef (which had been mostly destroyed from last year’s cyclone Yasi) in my thongs and took him back to the water. As we got to the water he started to flap his arms! I continued to carry him until it was deep enough for him to swim. I then bent down and placed him gently into the water. He took a big gasp and a breath of air and then turned to look at me before going under the water and swimming off! I thought ‘you little beauty’ and went to take a photo of him swimming to safety. It was then that I realized my camera had submerged in the water! So this was the last photo I ever took on that camera. Well worth it though to see the little guy swim to safety!”

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