Bach to the Bush is my 30-concert solo tour of the east-coast of Australia. Many of my friends and colleagues have been keen to know how all of this has come about. Limelight has been so generous as to allow me to share a diary of impressions with you as the tour continues through July and August. This tour is a social experiment; can a young musician turn up in regional Australia and find an audience? Thus far the answer is a definitive yes.
I spent last week on the road playing the first concerts in Wollongong and Clifton (between performances with Pinchgut Opera) followed by Ballarat, Warrnambool, Mount Gambier, Port Fairy, Cororooke and Lorne. These initial experiences have given me a strong sense of the hunger for culture in regional Australia and the generosity with which local arts networks are prepared to embrace and facilitate the success of a regional tour.
Back in 2014 when I first began Bach to the Bush, after returning to Australia as a graduate of Juilliard, I enjoyed the humbling experience of walking the streets of country towns in the Hunter Region with a tote bag full of posters, sticky tape and Blu Tack, pleading with store owners to allow me to hang a promotional poster in their windows. Such requests were always met with kindness and it was satisfying to know that my audiences found out about the concerts about via a poster I had hung myself, an email I sent or an editorial I had written. This year however, as I embarked on a much more ambitious tour of Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, I had no opportunity to visit any of my destinations prior to the concert. Seeing an audience of Bach lovers stream into a regional venue you are visiting for the first time, on a tour organised without a promoter or government support, can render a young musician speechless with humility and gratitude. This was all thanks to the hard work of local volunteers, who hung posters and delivered flyers, made connections to local media and spread the all-important word of mouth.
I established connections to these local networks with the help of trusty old Google, as well as via two important websites: Regional Arts Victoria’s www.homeiswherethehallis.com and the Woodford Folk Festival offshoot, the Festival of Small Halls. This amazing festival sends international acts from Woodford around the country, with festival staff visiting far in advance to scout venues and assist the local community to prepare. This year the Festival of Small Halls is on break, so several of the venues I chose, such as Adelong and Girgarre, were thrilled to have someone contact them to help fill the gap and maintain momentum. Doing an online image search using a few word combinations such as “Ballarat hall/church/chapel” always lends interesting results, and by contacting the attractive venues directly choices can be made based on size, acoustic, cost and availability, as well as the likelihood of generating an audience.
My first venue this year was the Wollongong Wesley “Church on the Mall”, built in 1882. This was my first musical outing in Wollongong, and I chose the venue for its renowned acoustic and very modest hire fee. The “Church on the Mall” plays host to the Wollongong Eisteddfod, which brings together hundreds of young musicians, their teachers and families, and many concerts each year by groups such as the Illawarra Choral Society. The acoustic is surely one of the finest in Australia for chamber music and attracts loyal audiences from across the Illawarra region. I made the mistake of scheduling my performance on the same night as the ensemble section of the Eisteddfod, a conflict which can’t be recommended. However, valued assistance from local musicians and ensembles such as Steel City Strings and the Wollongong Conservatorium resulted in a very appreciative audience of around 40.
The following morning, Clifton was one of the great successes of the tour so far. I spotted the picturesque Clifton School of Arts from my seat on the train from Berry to Sydney last December and decided I had to play there. 11am turns out to be an attractive time for a winter concert, and the small hall was packed with over 70 people. Enjoying views of the ocean, I caught site of leaping whales and soaring sea eagles while talking with the audience. Clifton School of Arts, built in 1911, has an excellent website and a dedicated committee who were very enthusiastic about hosting similar events in the future.
On Wednesday I performed my first solo recital in Victoria in the stunning Loreto College Chapel, Ballarat. The chapel, completed in 1902, has previously only been used for concerts as part of the Organs of the Ballarat Goldfields festival. Loreto College was very generous in allowing me to use the space in a return for a donation. I am indebted to Voi Williams, treasurer of the Organ Festival, for her generous promotional support.
On Thursday I played at Mozart Hall in Warrnambool, an old bathhouse converted into an intimate hall which now hosts many of Warrnambool’s community choirs and ensembles. On arrival I was treated to a performance of the Warrnambool Anthem by the Tin Shed Singers, a male choir affectionately known as the “sheddies”. There were sadly no whales to be seen at the Logan’s Beach Sanctuary, however a few friends from the Australian Chamber Orchestra Collective, in town for a concert at the Lighthouse Theatre, were spotted in the audience and at one of Warrnambool’s hip new bars, the Dart and Marlin. Philip Shaw, chief sheddy and champion of the local arts scene, provided invaluable assistance.
Friday night’s concert was held in a stunning new space at the University of South Australia in Mount Gambier. Officially a lecture theatre, it has a fine acoustic and a very attractive modern design. This was the first time the space had been used for a performance, but this was enthusiastically facilitated by university staff while Jennie Matthews from the Limestone Coast Symphony Orchestra helped connect me with the local classical music audience. One passionate Bach lover introduced himself at this performance – 94-year-old Charlie Miller, a Spitfire pilot in World War II. He described how, on his return from the war, he bought himself a 78 record player and a copy of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, and has since listened to classical music every day.
Saturday was the most intense day, involving two concerts, at Port Fairy Lecture Hall as part of the Winter Weekends Festival and the Red Rock Regional Theatre and Gallery in Cororooke. Port Fairy is a beautiful coastal town, which on Saturday was being lashed by an epic Southern Ocean swell. The Winter Weekends run throughout June and early July, hosting a series of fantastic community events run by a band of volunteers. It was a total pleasure to be included in their programming, and despite a carpeted floor the Lecture Hall is a grand venue for chamber music.
My favourite venue of the tour so far was Red Rock in Cororooke. Founded by local dairy farmers Andrew and Mary Beale following a tragic car accident in which they lost their 18-month old daughter Carolyn, Red Rock is a thriving arts venue. Red Rock features a gallery in the old church and a newly constructed black box theatre which seats 75. The theatre has a dry but pure acoustic, very suitable for chamber music. Despite never hosting a classical performance before, Andrew and Mary drummed up a full house for Bach to the Bush, which in this case also featured an impromptu presentation from my exceptional mother Jillian Albrecht detailing our family connections to the area. This was regional touring at its very unexpected best.
Sunday, the last leg of my South-West Victorian tour, featured a performance at the only venue to which I had a previous connection, Qdos Arts in Lorne, having performed there with friends in a group called Saluti Armonici in 2011. This fine art gallery, built and run by Graham Wilkie, is an exceptional space with views of eucalyptus and sculpture. While not perfect timing for Lorne, as Melbourne weekenders like to get back to the city before sundown, an audience of 60 gathered and listened to Bach accompanied by soft rainfall.
Stay tuned for more updates.
Anthony Albrecht’s Bach to the Bush tour continues at Wesley Music Centre, Canberra June 30, with upcoming performances in Healesville, Olinda, Warranwood, Melbourne, Girgarre, Adelong, Mount Beauty, Singleton, Cairns, Cooktown, Atherton, Port Douglas and Innisfail. For details, visit www.anthonyalbrecht.com