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. 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 late July, after a very enjoyable residency at the New England Conservatorium of Music in Armidale with the Australian Haydn Ensemble, I flew to Cairns two spend two weeks in Far North Queensland. Having left summer in the northern hemisphere to be in Australia these last few months, a daily temperature of 27 degrees Celsius was very welcome, as was the chance to explore some incredible landscapes and perform in some wonderful venues. This trip included performances in Cooktown, Port Douglas, Atherton, Cairns and Innisfail, as well as plenty of opportunities for rest and adventure.
In Part 1 of these diaries I described how this tour was organised, and in Part 2 I discussed my use of beautiful Australian art for my promotional material. In Part 3 I wanted to mention several of the unsung heroes who have supported me. Some of you will have noticed a beautiful white cello case featured in the tour Instagram photos. This case is a Brack, one of the fanciest and most expensive cases, made in Switzerland, and weighing only 3.5kg. This case was generously loaned to me for the tour by David Robertson at Hunter Valley Violins in Newcastle. David has been a champion of string playing in the Hunter Region since he took over the business more than ten years ago and has helped me personally numerous times with very high quality instrument repairs and the loan of equipment such as the Brack case. He is also passionate about fine instruments and has some beautiful examples available so get in touch!
Anyone in the Arts knows that building a relationship with a reliable, affordable and high quality printing service is one of the keys to success. All my promotional material for the tour was printed by Black Star Design, a small business in the Sydney CBD. John Martello, the owner, is a consummate professional who can make miracles happen on a moment’s notice for an extremely reasonable price. I can’t recommend him highly enough.
Another important support base for my tour has been the Australian Cultural Fund, managed by Creative Partnerships Australia. This is an Australian Government initiative with unique Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status, which allows the ACF to offer tax deductibility to donors. Many of my friends and colleagues, representing some of Australia’s most important artistic institutions, have profiles with the ACF. Potential donors can browse the website to support projects that resonate with them. If you have an arts project in mind I strongly suggest you get in touch with the ACF. I’ve been lucky and privileged to attract vital support for the tour via my ACF profile.
The first performance in Far North Queensland was Bach to the Bush Number 20, which took place at Cooktown Botanic Gardens. Cooktown is the last town on the road north to the tip of Cape York and is the site of Captain James Cook’s arrival in 1770 aboard the crippled Endeavour, which had sustained damage on a nearby reef. During their seven weeks in the area, botanist Joseph Banks and naturalist Daniel Solander collected, preserved and documented over 200 new species of plants. Cooktown Botanic Gardens is a wonderful place commemorating these discoveries. The visitors centre, called Nature’s Powerhouse, features an excellent cafe and gallery space, including the very significant collection of the Vera Scarth-Johnson Gallery. Performances at the gardens, organised by the inimitable Jo Wynter, take place semi-outdoors in the undercover cafe seating area. Locals and tourists alike are very supportive of these concerts, of which Jo has organised more than 70 over the years, and I had an audience of at least 50, including two giant green frogs. If things get too breezy or humid a performance in the Vera Scarth-Johnson Gallery room would be a possibility, however seating space would be more limited. Performers should also get in touch with Nick and Kris from Riverbend Tours, who are hosting magical evening concert events on their boat. Watch this space… Cooktown is hosting an extended celebration for the 250 year anniversary of Captain Cook’s arrival in 2020, featuring a stellar programme of events and performances.
Bach to the Bush Number 21 was held in the charming Clink Theatre in Port Douglas, a thriving community venue championed and managed by local councillor Michael Kerr. Michael supports events at the Clink Theatre presented by all sorts of arts groups and has a loyal audience following. The dry theatre acoustic was a challenge – purists may prefer the resonance of the Port Douglas Community Hall across the road – but I loved performing at the Clink and Michael is a real asset to the culture of the region. Douglas Shire Council is very supportive of the arts and I benefited from their promotional networking. We enjoyed amazing food in Port Douglas at Seabean, and spent an incredible day on the outer Great Barrier Reef snorkelling and diving with Calypso Tours.
The 22nd performance of the tour took place in Atherton, supported by The Arts Council Tablelands Inc., or TACTIC for short. This volunteer committee, led by the highly charismatic Eugene Pilat, is doing exceptional things for culture in the Tablelands, hosting a number of sell-out performances by groups such as the Camerata, Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra, and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra over the last 18 months. TACTIC doubled my highest previous attendance via promotion throughout the region, with 167 people packing out Atherton Performing Arts, a converted WWII igloo. This was a highlight of my whole tour, complemented by the amazing sights of the region such as the 500-year-old Cathedral and Curtain fig trees.
The next show took place in Cairns at the beautiful All Saints Chapel at St Andrew’s Catholic College in Redlynch. The college generously hosted the event in exchange for workshops with their music students. I had hoped to hold workshops at all the locations on my tour, but I would have needed one more staff member on my one-person team to organise this in addition to the concerts! St Andrew’s is a very well equipped, modern school, and the chapel is an outstanding place for chamber music, architect designed to open on all four sides, seating approximately 120 people. By next year a new 700-seat performing arts theatre will also be complete immediately adjacent to the chapel. My concert was supported by many of the performing arts heroes of Cairns and attracted a very warm audience of close to 70.
The final performance in Far North Queensland took place at the Innisfail Conservatorium of Music, supported by the Cassowary Coast Shire Council. This venue was built in the 1970s by community members who built up their wealth in the region to host summer school residencies by artists from the city conservatoriums. These days the venue is managed by Kim Agli at the Council and some passionate community volunteers, most importantly the amazing Janet Elders. This town works on the enlightened principal that by getting people out of their houses to a cultural event, incidental expenses generate income for the local economy. I therefore received amazing support from Kim and Janet and look forward to returning to Innisfail in the near future. Check out the historic and beautiful art deco Innisfail Shire Hall. We were also generously accommodated at Etty Bay, but don’t tell anyone, it’s paradise…
An unofficial Bach to the Bush #25 took place the following week at the Newcastle Music Festival. Bach Up Late was a programming suggestion of mine that the festival directors generously supported. They even agreed to my crazy plan to get Zackari Watt, the King of Singing, a Newcastle post-pop icon, to perform a series of songs by Purcell. This was a dream realised for me; an informal, intimate, late night concert in the beautiful acoustic of the Adamstown Uniting Church, reinterpreting some of the great ballads of the baroque. Particularly poignant was our transition from the Cold Genius directly into Yesterday by the Beatles. The festival was an awesome week of programming by David Banney and Ross Fiddes, featuring two highlights of my musical life. On Friday night I performed my Schubert Quintet debut with the extraordinary Orava Quartet. The violist of this group, Thomas Chawner, is one my oldest friends, and the boys are poised to take the chamber music world by storm, having recently been signed by Universal. It was an immense privilege to explore the Schubert for the first time with them and hear them performing Shostakovich’s String Quartet No 8. On Sunday I then confronted my greatest performance challenge, the Haydn Concerto in D Major. In front of a packed Christ Church Cathedral, this was a hugely daunting experience but one that lifted me to new levels of playing. I had a wonderful time working closely with my old teacher and mentor, conductor David Banney and the Christ Church Camerata, who were enhanced in the bass department by Professor Pippa Macmillan. I also had the great joy of performing the Vivaldi Double Concerto alongside Gavin Clark, a great cellist who has been lurking in Cooranbong for many years since his studies at Newcastle Conservatorium and will surely emerge as a force of period instrument playing very soon.
The final Bach to the Bush in this series will take place this weekend on Sunday, August 27, 3pm at Glebe Town Hall. Tickets are available here. The following day I fly back to London to resume studies and run my little music festival in East Sussex, the Lapwing Music Festival. It’s been an immense joy sharing music in my homeland this year… May Bach always be with you.