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Composer Elena Kats-Chernin was flown in for the Festival Farewell.
After nine days of music-making at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, the final concert typically has a carnival atmosphere, the stage full of performers and the repertoire festive – and this year’s sold-out Festival Farewell was no different.
The concert opened with German husband-and-wife team violinist Indira Koch and cellist Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt performing Norwegian composer Johan Halvorsen’s Passacaglia in G Minor on a Theme by George Frideric Handel, before baritone Roderick Williams joined the Goldner Quartet on stage for a set of Mendelssohn songs. The concert really caught fire, however, with pianists Piers Lane and Finghin Collins facing off across two pianos for Dave Brubeck’s bluesy ballet suite Points on Jazz, which prompted laughter and excited applause after several of the movements.
The audience was given the mysterious instruction to remain in their seats at the end of the concert’s first half. Flown in especially for the concert was Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin, whose Three Dancers was commissioned for the festival’s 25th anniversary last year. In celebration of Lane’s tenth anniversary as Artistic Director of the Festival this year, the organisers had a surprise for him – a new piano work commissioned from Kats-Chernin, performed by the composer herself, with Lane in the page-turner’s seat. “A gift of music that celebrates this time and this place,” as Sandra Yates, chair of the AFCM’s board of directors, put it. Tropical Nights combined passionate Russian tango, hints of Chopin and according to Kats-Chernin was inspired by “flamboyant, famous, colourful Piers’s socks.” The image to keep in mind, she explained, was that of Lane’s socks going for a walk down Townsville’s Palmer St, stopping for various different drinks (a red wine, a cocktail) along the way. Following the performance, Kats-Chernin presented Lane with the score, to uproarious applause from the audience.
Trey Lee and Schmidt opened the second half with an amiable cello duo – Jean-Baptiste Barrière’s Sonata for Two Cellos in G Minor – before violinist Tasmin Little took the stage with Lane for a suite of pieces culminating in Vittorio Monti’s virtuosic Csárdás, dispatched with passionate vigour and aplomb. Ensemble Liaison knocked the energy up another notch with an arrangement of Igor Frolov’s Concert Fantasy of Themes from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, David Griffiths almost bouncing out of his seat as he slid around the clarinet.
Sa Chen, Andrew West and Timothy Young then squeezed onto a single piano stool for Czerny’s Variations on Mozart Arias for six hands, Chen at the top, Young on the bass and West sandwiched in the middle.
Soprano Valda Wilson – alongside Williams – stunned with a performance of the final scene from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin before the concert was capped off with all of the musicians on stage for a rendition of Satie’s first Gymnopédie.
Following the festival, some of the artists will fly straight on to other engagements overseas or elsewhere in Australia, while others will take a well-earned break, staying on to soak up a bit more sun. But many will, I’m sure, be back again next year for more chamber music and tropical nights.