Sydney performance just announced! Sunday August 27, 3pm, Glebe Town Hall. Tickets available here.
Bach to the Bush is my 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.
In the last three weeks I’ve performed ten additional concerts on the tour in regional Victoria and NSW at locations including Canberra, Healesville, Olinda, Warranwood, Melbourne, Girgarre, Beechworth, Adelong, Mount Beauty and Singleton. As on the first leg of the tour, I’ve ‘discovered’ some incredible venues, a few of which had not hosted a classical music performance in living memory. The efforts of my local heroes in making the concerts successful have been amazing, and the viability of regional touring for young classical musicians (without government support) ever more apparent.
In Part 1 of these diaries I briefly described how the tour came about and how I contacted and organised the various venues. One special element of my promotion for the tour has been the use of two of my favourite Australian artworks. One key feature of my concerts is to connect the concepts of music and nature, so using landscape paintings for the promotional material seemed highly appropriate. Brett Whiteley’s Summer and Carcoar was given to the Newcastle Regional Art Gallery in 1977 by William Bowmore, a well-known philanthropist who also supported cello scholarships at Newcastle Conservatorium. I used to sit in front of this work as a child, mesmerised by its size and beautiful details of Australian flora and fauna. Its depiction of the dry but rich, diverse NSW interior was perfect for inland tour locations such as Beechworth and Singleton. I contacted the gallery and they were supportive, but permission was required from Wendy Whiteley herself before the painting could be licenced for use. Contacting Wendy required a bit of improvisation; a call to the publisher of a book about her, authored by a close friend, an old-fashioned letter from the publisher to the friend, and then a series of emails in which Wendy generously agreed to support the tour as long as the integrity of the work could be maintained in the poster design. It’s such an honour to have an association to her and Brett through the use of his painting.
The second work I used was Eugene von Guerard’s Ferntree Gully in the Dandenong Ranges, painted in 1857 and held in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia. The dense, moist rainforest foliage and central figure of the Lyrebird in this work seemed a good fit for many of the coastal performances I’ve given, including in the Dandenongs and coming up over the next two weeks in far north Queensland. I love the NGA and try visit every time I’m in Canberra. Their staff were very excited about the tour and were happy for the work to be used with the correct attribution. I’ve even been offered the chance to see it in the storage rooms next time I’m in the nation’s capital (with the Australian Haydn Ensemble on August 9). The use of these great works makes me very happy when I see them displayed in shop windows in the towns in which I’m performing, and I can only encourage others to get in touch with galleries and collaboratively celebrate our great art in ways that resonate with audiences and the concept of the performance.
On Friday, June 30 I was in Canberra to perform at Wesley Music Centre. Canberra has a vibrant and supportive creative scene, and Wesley has a dedicated audience who appreciate its fine acoustic. The centre hosts dozens of concerts each year, as well as supporting young local musicians with scholarships. Although I was performing in an extremely busy period (the Australian Haydn Ensemble, with me in the cello section, and David Pereira had each performed concerts the night before) an audience of at least 60 was present. One extremely lucky meeting resulted from this concert. I always tell the story of my instrument, a 1740 Peter Walmsley cello from London that I have had the privilege to use since the middle of last year. The cello was owned by Francesca Rousseaux (nee Bonsey), a very talented musician who trained at the Royal College of Music, gave Wigmore Hall recitals and emigrated to Geelong in the mid-20th century. When I began to describe its history, forgetting Francesca’s surname, her nephew Martin, who was in the audience, realised who I was talking about and introduced himself at the end of the concert. He was thrilled to know the cello was being put to good use. I’m grateful to Wesley, Eric Pozza and Canberra early music icons Richard and Joan Milner for their support in promoting the event.
After another great Australian Haydn Ensemble performance at City Recital Hall, Angel Place on the Saturday night I flew to Melbourne early on Sunday, July 2 for a concert in Healesville. This event was hosted by the incredible Dr Khoi Boi and Michael Anderson at their property, which was recently featured in the Yarra Valley Magazine. This pair, known in various guises as surgeon, GP, harpsichordist, architect, opera set designer, and venue owner (Madame Brussels in Melbourne), have been hosting an increasingly vibrant and very popular concert series in the fine acoustic of their home, which comfortably seats 100, for the last 18 months. They pull out all the stops, serving incredible food and wine included in the vary reasonable ticket price. I was privileged to spend two nights in the Yarra Valley with Khoi and Michael and some dear friends visiting from Melbourne. Follow @Cosmediclinic on Facebook for news of their upcoming events. A highlight was a trip to the Kalatha Giant, a magnificent 500 year-old Mountain Ash deep in what will hopefully become the Great Forest National Park.
On July 4 I performed at Olinda Town Hall in the beautiful Dandenong Ranges. My Great Uncle Gerry lives on Mt Dandenong (but required a private recital in his hospital room the following day due to his ailing health), and I was thrilled to return to the area after many years and to marvel at more Mountain Ash eucalypts. Olinda Town Hall is more than a century old and is supported by the lovely staff at the Olinda Community House. It’s blessed with great acoustics and an excellent heating system, and I received helpful attention from the Dandenong Ranges Music Council to attract an audience of nearly 50.
The next evening I drove towards Melbourne to perform in the amazing hall at the Michael Centre, part of the Melbourne Rudolf Steiner Seminar. This hall is a perfect space for music with views out into trees. The Steiner community were very supportive, as well as Lisa Pearson who runs a concert series at the Warrandyte Mechanics Institute, resulting in an audience again totalling nearly 50.
Thursday July 6 saw me perform at Temperance Hall on Napier St in South Melbourne. This venue was recently taken over by the Philip Adams BalletLab, and is a space to watch in the coming months and years. With a rustic appearance, a grand resonant acoustic in the upstairs space, views of the city and some inspired and eclectic programming, I imagine this soon becoming an important cultural hub for the city after many years of neglect. Melbourne resulted in my smallest audience of the tour so far, albeit an extremely friendly one. Without a ‘local hero’, such as I was able to develop relationships with for my regional performances, and with a much greater challenge of penetrating into the press with such a saturation of arts activity going on the city, only 25 people showed up. I’ve been waiting for a performance on this tour in which only 3 or 4 people attend, which so far has not eventuated, but I love the idea of being just as generous with a small audience as if 100 were to show up. Melbourne will be the target of another Bach to the Bush performance in future! I’m grateful to Philip Adams for taking a chance on a roving cellist and providing the space, as well as to my uncle Dr Simon Albrecht for providing the wine.
On Friday afternoon I drove through golden Victorian light to Girgarre, an extremely special little town near Shepparton. A depleted dairy industry and the loss of a Heinz factory resulted in a jobs crisis, but the community got together to raise moral and increase local opportunities via a monthly farmer’s market, an annual music festival, the Girgarre Moosic Muster, and monthly jam sessions which attract players from across the region. The town’s population has begun to increase again, and with a number of successful grants through the Small Town Transformation Project Girgarre is set to open new public spaces, including a series of interactive musical installations by Australian composer and artist Graeme Leak. He has already made a wonderful series of musical playground works for Girgarre Public School. Jan Smith was my local hero, an incredibly generous community figure who has worked very hard to put Girgarre on the map. She has helped facilitate performances in the town before in collaboration with the Festival of Small Halls, but this was the first performance of classical music in Girgarre, and was very enthusiastically received by nearly 50 locals.
On Saturday I found myself in beautiful Beechworth in the Indigo Valley, where I performed in the Beechworth Town Hall. The bushranger Ned Kelly was held in the vault underneath in 1871. The hall is ornate, painted in a light pink hue, with an excellent sound and stage. This event was hosted by Totally Renewable Yackandandah (TRY), a local initiative to aiming make the area energy self-sufficient. This was a perfect opportunity to stimulate ‘the head and the heart’, an important objective of my tour. A short presentation by TRY reflecting on their work was paired with the sense of loss and inner darkness, in response to global issues such as climate change and environmental destruction, that I suggest can be conveyed and publicly acknowledged in the 21st century by Bach’s D Minor Suite for solo cello. Massive thanks to Denis Ginnivan from Events that Matter for spreading the word and hosting a great event which attracted over 60 people from around the valley.
On Sunday July 9 I gave another classical music debut in the alpine gateway town of Adelong. This venue was also introduced to me via the Festival of Small Halls website and their personal recommendation. Jenni Tiyce very kindly hosted the event in support of the hall and the local Red Cross, with volunteers putting on a scrumptious afternoon tea for the 50 in attendance. I’m often asked about my experience of concert etiquette in regional venues, and am pleased to say that in 19 concerts I’ve only heard two mobile phones go off. That’s without ever deliberately mentioning that they should be turned off. An unorthodox experience in Adelong did move me however, when an elderly gentleman stood up and approached me after I concluded the first piece. He came up very close and repeatedly told me that he had not been able to hear the piece I had just played. I was somewhat taken aback, and assured him that if he sat down I would play it again for him, or that perhaps he would like to sit a little closer. It quickly became apparent however that despite hearing aids he genuinely could not hear me. Whether or not the hearing aids or his mind were at fault, it was sad to see the desperation in his face to be able to experience what I was doing. An audience member assisted him to go and get some tea, and as I resumed the concert I could not help but sadly contemplate his situation. At the conclusion of Bach’s first Suite in G major, I related my thoughts to the audience about Beethoven’s tragic hearing loss, who first experienced his own 9th symphony without ever being able to listen to it. Be grateful for your ears people.
After a few days of mountainous bliss in Mount Beauty with my family, I performed at the Community Centre there. This concert was hosted by the Upper Kiewa Valley Regional Arts organisation who helped with newspaper articles, a radio interview and even put my name in lights on the noticeboard on the way into town. The hall has a truly beautiful sound and the community turned out in force. Many thanks to Jocelyn Scherf from UKVRA for her generous work and the local U3A group for shifting movie night to the following Wednesday to accommodate me. Look out for announcements about the upcoming Mount Beauty Music Festival!
The final concert of this leg of the tour, after a wondrous week in Armidale with the Australian Haydn Ensemble, took place in Singleton on Sunday July 23. I performed in the chapel of Singleton Convent, built for the Sisters of Mercy in 1909 and now run by the wonderful staff at Sacred Spaces Singleton. Sacred Spaces hosts an annual concert series (since the site was opened to the public in 1995), and they generously included me in their calendar of events. Playing in the space is a truly sacred experience and I was thrilled to have an audience approaching 70 people. Jan Fallding is an excellent, generous host and I suggest anyone keen to play in Singleton get in touch with her as the 2018 calendar is currently taking shape!
Bach to the Bush continues July 30 in Cooktown, far north Queensland, with concerts in Cairns, Port Douglas, Atherton and Innisfail. Anthony Albrecht appears in three concerts at the Newcastle Music Festival, August 9 – 20, including a solo recital, a performance of Schubert’s Quintet in C with the Orava Quartet, and Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D with Christ Church Camerata in the Festival Finale. The final Bach to the Bush performance for 2017 will take place in Sydney at Glebe Town Hall, 3pm on Sunday August 27. Tickets available here.