Are regional music festivals more popular than their capital city counterparts? If Tyalgum Music Festival is anything to go by then this could very well be the case. Locals have every right to be proud of this event, founded 28 years ago, which celebrates classical as well as world and experimental music. The majestic setting cradled by magnificent mountains is spectacular and the Festival’s interactions with this quaint town’s commercial nooks and crannies percolates from morning until midnight. Flutterbies, the restaurant, hosted The Heart Collectors band and guitarist Anthony Garcia after each evening’s formal concert.
There’s something irresistible about encountering live music in unexpected settings. One of the event’s charms were the free, at times zany pop up performances. Pedestrians strolling down Coolman Street, the main drag, were surprised by a double bass, guitar, cello and vocal improvisation in Yasna, the town’s elegant art gallery. Young pianists played in Flutterbies, a Queensland Conservatorium big band fired the local pub’s courtyard and Comfort Music by Alice Chance, an opera-on-the-move, roamed across the lush oval and up and down the town’s main thoroughfare. Informal presentations, such as a violin soliloquy by co-director Anna McMichael, also in Vasha, ran in between Tyalgum Hall’s seven ticketed events.
The Hall seats an audience of 200, not so great for generating box office, but its modest proportions spawns an appealing intimacy which encourages immersion in the music. Built in 1908, an exhibition of photography illustrated the Hall’s history. This venue’s marvellous resonance was why violinists Carmel Kaine and John Willison decided to start the annual Festival in 2001. The acoustic was a gift for the impressive antiphonal performance of Gabrieli’s Canzon Septimi Toni No 1 by two Queensland Conservatorium brass choirs ably conducted by Ben Marks. Another highlight in the same ‘rising stars’ special was a trombone quartet’s mellow incarnation of Debussy’s Girl With The Flaxen Hair. The acoustic also favoured a marvellously nuanced Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss, delivered by soprano Greta Bradman and the Tinalley Quartet in Friday’s Gala. The Viney-Grinberg Piano Duo made a sterling contribution all round, but their realisation of Schubert’s Fantasie in F minor in Sunday’s concert was brilliantly shaped, and their bold moments of spell-binding silence heightened the drama.
Co-Directors Vanessa Tomlinson and McMichael deserve praise for the program’s diversity and for recruiting such an impressive team of musicians that included Camerata-Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra, triple Grammy Award-winning flautist Tim Munro, violinist and Camerata Artistic Director Brendan Joyce, and composer Erik Griswold, a legendary whisperer of ‘prepared’ piano as revealed in his minimalist Hollows Out Of Time in the final event. Played by an impassioned Camerata, comprising Joyce, Katherine Philp (cello), Jason Tong (violin) and Anna Colville (viola), Griswold’s eerie, chirrupy piano distortions channelled a gamelan, plucked strings and snatches of percussion. The work provoked lively debate.
One of a festival’s main strengths is the capacity for artistic directors to take risks. The program was judiciously studded with alternative, experimental music like Griswolds’ work, and, refreshingly, women composers championed. Munro’s convincing rendition of Pirouette on a Moon Sliver, especially crafted for him by Amy Beth Kirsten, saw his deft flute productions intersect with his commanding speaking voice. It was also a treat to hear the world premiere of Mary Finsterer’s one movement work, Dusk, played by the Tinalley String Quartet.
In Bradman and pianist Anna Grinberg’s brilliant recital of six lieder by Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, the pair alternated songs by each composer. These were sensitively arranged by Calvin Bowman. Despite the smoky air, the legacy of bushfires in Lamington National Park, Bradman, in fine fettle, delighted the crowd with a scorching account of Manuel de Falla’s Seven Popular Spanish Songs. In Nana, Grinberg’s sympathetic piano sounded like teardrops.
Tinalley String Quartet
If a little gloom goes a long way, Saturday morning’s Tinalley String Quartet concert swam in troubled artistic waters, despite the glary sun outside. Violinist Adam Chalabi described Beethoven’s plaintive String Quartet No 4 as “a walk in the park” compared to Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No 6, a plangent homage to his deceased sister. Tinalley lovingly and viscerally channelled Mendelssohn’s confessional outpouring and highlighted the work’s startling language like the final movement’s lacerating down bows. Carolling friar birds and a ceiling fan’s relentless rattle and whirr seemed only to intensify this luminous expression of grief.
Saturday evening’s concert sharply contrasted with earlier offerings. Philp, percussionist Michael Askill and singer and Dranyen virtuoso Tenzin Choegyal have pioneered a new genre by combining Tibetan nomadic traditions with contemporary classical music. Cheogyal’s soaring vocals were embroidered by Philp and supported by a sparkling percussive team with Tomlinson at the helm. The hour-long event – all concerts are a snug sixty minutes – was a thrilling ride into a revelatory sonic realm.
In general, not everything worked, and the explanatory concert chatter was at times too long, but with such an appreciative audience and an output of mostly winning performances it was easily forgiven. Entertaining, heart-warming, friendly and fun, this year’s Festival was a triumph.