The classical music world is awash with stories of instruments damaged, destroyed or refused entry on to flights, as musicians negotiate the perils of international travel with cellos and double basses. (Follow Steven Isserlis’ Twitter feed for a taste of the trials these musical travellers face on a weekly basis.) Roberto Carillo-Garcia and Rachael Clegg, who are guest artists at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, however, have opted for a scenic work-around for the domestic leg of their trip, road-tripping the 1,334 kilometres from Brisbane to Townsville across three days with a car full of instruments.

AFCM Road TripRoberto Carillo-Garcia and Rachael Clegg in Brisbane at the start of their road trip. Photo © Dan Fidler

The couple, Carillo-Garcio, on double bass, guitar and viola da gamba, and Clegg on oboe, are making their debut at the festival, and this is their first time in Australia. Carillo-Garcio is borrowing a double bass from the Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Ken Poggioli, and a viola da gamba from Shannon Luk.

“Our decision to drive rather than fly to Townsville is largely based on the fact that driving is much safer for large instruments like the double bass,” Carillo-Garcio said. “There are many opportunities for damage during transit when flying and there are limited places to repair the instruments should they be damaged on arrival to Townsville. We also need to be practical when choosing where to stay – high rise buildings with stairs and lifts are a bit risky so we aim to stay in cabins and low set apartments so we can move the instruments directly in from the car.”

Roberto Carillo-Garcia and Rachael Clegg. Photo © Dan Fidler

This route will give Clegg and Carillo-Garcio plenty of time to check out the Queensland countryside as well. “I am from Tenerife in the Canary Islands and Rachael, like most Brits, loves the beach so we are planning to travel up the coast, stopping the first evening at Tannum Sands in Gladstone where we will stay in a seaside cabin. We’ll then drive to Mackay, staying in another seaside apartment before driving the final four and a half hours to Townsville,” Carillo-Garcia said.

The trip will also be a chance to get to know the borrowed instruments – though Carillo-Garcia is bringing his own strings. “We normally use real gut strings for baroque and classical period instruments but due to the tropical climate of Townsville, for the gamba I am using Perlon strings instead,” he says. “Perlon is a type of nylon that is more stable to change of weather, humidity and temperature. I’m also bringing my own double bass strings, one set for solo and another set for ensemble and larger groups. Since I’m playing with instruments that I don’t know, at least the strings will be familiar! Artistic Director, Kathryn Stott has very kindly offered to bring my own Spanish guitar (built by Manuel Contreras in Madrid 1983) on the plane with her. I have quite a bit of guitar playing to do so it’ll lovely to use my own instrument.”

Roberto Carillo-Garcia hitchin’ a ride. Photo © Dan Fidler

The road-tripping won’t stop when the festival comes to an end. “We haven’t made specific plans as we’re are keen to get suggestions when we arrive, but we have been told great things about Airlie Beach so we will definitely stop in there,” Carillo-Garcia said. “The only restriction is that we need to be in Sydney by August 14 as that’s when we are booked to fly back to the UK.”

“We feel so privileged to be coming to this festival,” he said. “When Kathryn Stott asked us to be involved, there is no way we could say ‘no’. To be able to visit Australia and perform with so many amazing musicians in a tropical paradise is a dream come true!”


The Australian Festival of Chamber Music is in Townsville July 26 – August 4

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