Bowling up the dusty drive to the extensive Huntington Estate winery near Mudgee you’re immediately reminded it’s been a dry year out here in rural NSW. In her welcome speech, Nicky Boud the cheerful general manager informed us that “gentlemen should feel free to water the vines – all donations would be welcome.” Given that an evening’s event here can begin at 6pm with a pre-concert talk from Carl Vine, followed by canapés and drinks, a two-and-a-half-hour concert (with interval refreshments) and then a sit down supper with unlimited beverages, I should imagine those vines will be running positively rampant by Saturday night!
Thinking about what to blog about, my first thought was the food – no the wine – no, maybe I should start with the music. Or should I just have another glass of the excellent Cabernet Merlot (a case of which is now in the boot of my car) and chill out a bit. Actually, I think I can manage a bit about all of the above. And the scores for all three should come out pretty high.
The food is not only excellent – it appears to be unlimited. Looking at my fellow travellers, many of who are back for the umpteenth time and chatting away to friends from last year (or twenty years ago in some cases), they’ve figured out where to put it. Either that, or they’re pacing themselves better than me.
The wine flows like, er wine, and special tastings are laid on daily courtesy of Tim Stevens, the popular owner and host of the annual music festival run in conjunction with Musica Viva – Australia’s premiere organiser of chamber music tours. I had to miss today’s masterclass, but stuck my head in at the friendly cellar door later in the day where the company was as pleasant as the latest Semillon.
And what about the music? I don’t think it’s the wine talking here but this really is rather special. As Benjamin Britten proved at Snape, all your really need is somewhere to stick a Steinway and you’re away. In this case patrons were invited up after the concert to have a little tinkle, and as you can see, our Editor couldn’t resist a moment in the spotlight.
This year’s line-up includes a few leading Brits in the form of dynamic pianist Freddy Kempf and the Doric String Quartet whose stellar recordings were matched by equally stellar live performances. Joining them was engaging Spanish oboist Ramón Ortega Quero who introduced us to some gorgeous pastoral Études by Gilles Silvestrini. Add to that a plethora of top Australian talent – Daniel de Borah, Ian Munro, Paul Dean, rising piano star Hoang Pham and three out of four Goldners – and you have a recipe for much pleasure.
The opening concert was all mainstream repertoire, to lull us into a sense of security, but the following day brought plenty of new discoveries. If, like me, you’d sometimes rather sit through an hour of unknown gems than another evening of Mozart and Brahms (with no offense to Mozart and Brahms), this kind of festival event is probably for you. I must say I’m grateful to the programmers who introduced me to Margaret Sutherland’s Baxian Clarinet Sonata (Dean and Pham) and James Meador’s comical Reciprocity for tenor trombone and contrabass tuba (Jessica and Tim Buzbee).
The highlight of the coffee concert (which also offered copious canapés and a sit down lunch afterwards) was The Rite of Spring for piano four-hands, played by Daniel de Borah and Ian Munro. These generous and sensitive musicians made a lovely couple at the piano, their heads swaying in mutual ecstasy at one moment, the next, pouncing on Stravinsky’s folky tunes and giving that poor old Steinway a right old workout.
This evening promises more delights – the Doric playing Haydn, Prokofiev’s bizarrely scored quintet for oboe, clarinet, violin, viola and double bass (there’s one I’ve never heard), and one of my all time favourites that no-one ever does: Peter Warlock’s haunting The Curlew with tenor, Andrew Goodwin. As they say, bring it on!