From the massive success stories of Townsville’s Australian Festival of Chamber Music and the Huntington Estate Music Festival (in its final year this year) to brand new festivals like the Mackay Chamber Music Festival, there is a rich culture of music-making taking place across Australia outside the major cities. Angus McPherson spoke to Australian Chamber Orchestra violinist Glenn Christensen about the festival he started in his home town of Mackay, now in its second year, while Shirley Zhu rounds up some of the best chamber offerings around the country.

Glenn ChristiansenGlenn Christensen

What inspired you to start a chamber music festival in Mackay?

I grew up in Mackay, and I always remember how inspiring it was to have visiting professional musicians come to town to perform. I loved growing up there, and the thriving local arts community gave me loads of opportunities as a budding musician. I guess starting this festival in my home town is my way of giving something back to the community that gave me so much, and hope that it gives more people in the region an opportunity to engage with the arts and music. I also hope that we can inspire the next generation of young musicians in the community to follow their passion. 

What was the response like to the inaugural festival last year?

I think there was a real craving for something like this in the region, and the inaugural festival sold out! There was a palpable sense of community spirit, and the audience got behind the festival and really supported it. I wanted the festival to be something that the local community could feel proud of; something that broke down barriers between audience and performers, and for the artists to really engage with the local community. I think we achieved that, and we had so much positive feedback that we’re coming back again in 2019, and hopefully every year into the future!

What have you learned from that first experience that you’re bringing to the second?

I’ve always respected how hard people in arts management work, but running this small festival has really opened my eyes to all the intricacies of what some people do every day of their working lives. I’ve had so much help from so many people to help make this festival come to life, and I’ve learned a huge amount from each of them. It’s obviously important to listen to audience feedback as well, so we’ve made a few improvements this year, which will definitely make the second festival even better than the first!

How did you go about choosing the artists?

Besides the obvious of being some of the country’s greatest musicians, all of the artists are really wonderful people. It’s important in an intense and full-on festival environment to have people who are up for a challenge with a positive and fun attitude. It was also important to me to have artists that are passionate about chamber music, passionate about bringing music to regional areas, and also passionate about music education. We’re all sharing a couple of houses for a week, so it’s imperative to have people who are passionate about their music making, but also easy-going! It’s also pretty handy if they’re also a great cook (Simon Cobcroft!).

What were some of the factors you wanted to keep in mind when putting together this program?

I wanted each concert to have a bit of a theme or a thread that would make sense to the audience, and so we’re not just playing random music for the sake of it. I also wanted to make a program that would equally delight and challenge the audience, with a wide range of styles. So we’ve ended up with some of the great pieces of chamber music, as well as some lesser-known gems. I’m particularly excited that we’ve got a world premiere by Calvin Bowman, as well as exquisite works by Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel and Caroline Shaw.

What are you most excited about at this year’s festival?

I’m really excited that besides the festival performances, this year we’re expanding our educational program. Some of our festival artists will facilitate masterclasses for local strings and piano students, and others will work with a community string orchestra in their rehearsals. We’re also holding a workshop for local school wind students, run by Justin Beere (Associate Principal Clarinet of Orchestra Victoria), and a professional development session for local piano teachers run by renowned pedagogue Angela Turner. This year, I’m thrilled that we’re partnering with Camerata – Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra, to bring Artistic Director Brendan Joyce to Mackay to present a workshop for local string students. Our educational reach should be quite extensive!

How important a role do music festivals like this play in regional areas and cities?

I don’t think you can really quantify just how important it is for regional areas to have access to the arts through festivals like this. I believe the capital cities have an abundance of opportunities, and unfortunately the regional centres of Australia are often overlooked. Besides the benefits of contributing to the cultural life of an area, I’ve seen the entire spirit of a community be lifted in other regional festivals around the country. So often these communities are going through hardships from drought or floods or high levels of unemployment, so to help alleviate these stresses through music, even temporarily, is so important. I believe to provide educational opportunities is also so important – as musicians it’s not only our job to inspire the next generation of musicians, but also to help create the next generation of empathetic humans beings.

The Mackay Chamber Music Festival runs July 19 – 21 


Regional Chamber Music Festivals worth checking out

Bangalow Music Festival

Presented by the Southern Cross Soloists (SXS) and currently in its 18th year, Bangalow Music Festival has released its 2019 program and theme – Conversations through Chamber Music. Thirty internationally regarded artists, including Orava String Quartet, UK violinist Victoria Sayles, and ABC Classic presenter Ed Ayres will feature across nine curated concerts, August 9 – 11.

“Music magically tells a story and begins a conversation between the performers and the listeners, capturing hidden emotions and atmospheres that belie words or descriptions and connects us to something larger than ourselves,” said Artistic Director, Tania Frazer.

Along with the popular pre-festival event – Festival Prelude, all concerts will be held in Bangalow’s A&I Hall with tickets available on SXS’s website.

Tyalgum Music Festival

A little over an hour’s drive from the Gold Coast lies the sunny, rural village of Tyalgum. Since its inception in 1991, the annual Tyalgum Music Festival has thrived in the Tyalgum Community Hall. This year the festival plays September 6 – 8, with an ambitiously varied seven-concert program, ranging from Strauss’ songs to immersive percussive ritual music.

Guest artists include composer and percussionist Dr Michael Askill, soprano Greta Bradman, Camerata, Tibetan artist Tenzin Cheogyal, pianist Dr Anna Grinberg, composer Erik Griswold, triple-Grammy Award-winning flautist Tim Munro, cellist Katherine Philp, Tinalley String Quartet and the Viney-Grinberg Piano Duo. Tickets are available here.

Crossroads Chamber Music Festival

The music director of the Crossroads Chamber Music Festival, Australian violinist Charmian Gadd has announced this year’s program, with another six, high-quality concerts across two days. The event will take place September 7 – 8 in the serene Greenway Memorial Chapel and Gardens at Green Point.

New this year is Kawai’s sponsorship of a grand piano specifically for the festival. Each day will therefore include a short piano recital, with the first from Phillip Shovk, performing Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and the second, Tony Lee.

“The festival is also about encouraging and nurturing new talent,” says Gadd. Following the success of the quartet she launched last year – Phoenix Collective, Gadd says,“this year we will be launching another new quartet, so stay tuned.” Early bird tickets close on 16 August and are available here

A Feast of Music – Daylesford Chamber Music Festival

Now in its seventh year, the 2019 Feast of Music – Daylesford Chamber Music Festival (produced by Melbourne Chamber Orchestra) will take place September 6 – 8 at the picturesque Lake House in Daylesford, Melbourne.

Guest artists this year include pianist Lucinda Collins, harpist Alice Giles AM, flautist Prudence Davis and violinist Elizabeth Layton, who will be working alongside the musicians of Melbourne Chamber Orchestra (MCO). They will be presenting an ambitious program, featuring works across the canon, from CPE Bach’s Symphony in E Flat Major, to Mozart’s Flute and Harp Concerto, Ravel’s Piano Trio and Grieg’s Second Violin Sonata. Single tickets and festival packages are currently on sale on the MCO website.

Barossa, Baroque and Beyond

Set in the idyllic Barossa Valley and now in its fifth year, the 2019 Barossa, Baroque and Beyond festival will take place over the Labour Day long-weekend, October 5 –6. Guest artists handpicked by Artistic Director Sharon Grigoryan include organist Calvin Bowman, the Tawadros Brothers and Adelaide Baroque. This year the closing act has been named Band of Brothers and will feature two sets of siblings – Slava and Leonard Grigoryan and Joseph and James Tawadros. Tickets are available on the festival’s website.