The Australian Festival of Chamber Music has unveiled its 2018 program, which will include six world and 16 Australian premieres – not to mention 21 artists who will be appearing at the Festival for the first time, six of whom will be making their Australian debuts. This year’s Festival in Townsville in Tropical North Queensland will be the first programmed by new Artistic Director Kathryn Stott, who is taking over from Piers Lane after a tenure of 11 years.

Australian Festival of Chamber Music, AFCM, Kathryn StottAustralian Festival of Chamber Music Artistic Director Kathryn Stott. Photo: supplied

As the AFCM’s first female Artistic Director, Stott is marking the occasion in the program. “I thought, let’s have a mini focus on female composers,” she told Limelight. “I’ve got 10 female composers featured, starting with Nadia Boulanger, who I studied with. We’ve got Australian composer Clare Johnston [now Clare Strong], Roxana Panufnik is celebrating her 50th this year so it’s great to include her, Gabriela Lena Frank has written an amazing piece called Ritmos Anchinos.” The program will also include Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata, while British author and critic Jessica Duchen has written a narrative called Being Mrs. Bach, which will feature in the first of the popular and returning Bach By Candlelight concerts.

Wu Tong, Australian Festival of Chamber Music, AFCMSheng player Wu Tong. Photo: supplied

Artists at this year’s Festival will include Chinese master Sheng player Wu Tong, Argentinian Bandonéon player JP Jofre, Norwegian violist Lars Anders Tomter and Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth, UK pianist Katya Apekisheva and Czech violinist Pavel Fischer. Australian violinist Grace Clifford will make her Festival debut as the youngest ever artist to perform at the AFCM at age 20, while Festival favourites the Goldner Quartet will make a return appearance as Quartet-in-Residence. Returning artists will include percussionist Claire Edwardes, guitarist Karin Schaupp and violinist Paul Wright.

“Apart from one person, which is the wonderful baritone Roderick Williams, all the international artists are new to the Festival,” Stott said. “I thought, you know, this world is a big place, let’s bring a heap of new people.”

Tine Thing Helseth. AFCM, Australian Festival of Chamber MusicTrumpeter Tine Thing Helseth. Photo: supplied

Popular events such as the Bach By Candlelight concerts and Concert Conversations will remain a fixture of the Festival, but Stott is introducing a few new touches of her own, including a concert at The Ville Resort, called the Cleveland Bay Supper Club. “I call it a lounge concert,” she said. “Something that’s a little bit more relaxed – people can have wine and canapés.”

The concert will be in three parts, with the first exploring the influence of jazz on classical chamber music. “For instance, we have the Ravel Violin Sonata, with that wonderful Blues second movement,” Stott said. “Kapustin’s fantastic jazz trio for flute, piano and cello.”

The second part will have a tango flavour, featuring JP Jofre on bandoneon. “This guy is sensational, I’ve played with him a couple of times,” said Stott. “It’s really brilliant stuff and I think everybody will be tapping their toes.” The concert will also feature violinist Karen Gomyo, who toured Australia last year, earning a five-star review from Limelight, and who according to Stott is “an absolute tango fanatic.”

Karen Gomyo, AFCMViolinist Karen Gomyo. Photo: supplied

The final third of the concert will feature songs by Gershwin, sung by Australian soprano Siobhan Stagg.

The Composer-in-Residence at this year’s Festival will be Australian composer Julian Yu. “I first heard of Julian Yu I think now about eight years ago in Manchester because two orchestras based near me had both played music of his,” Stott said. “He did an arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and the colours that he used, I just thought were so beautiful, and I always remembered it.”

“One of the pieces I think is absolutely extraordinary is the Passacaglia based on a Biber sonata,” she said. “The wonderful Grace Clifford is going to perform that, and I think it’s an absolutely brilliant piece.”

Grace Clifford, AFCMViolinist Grace Clifford. Photo: Supplied

Stott is also excited about this year’s Families Concert. “I think the Families Concerts have focused on children, and that’s great, but I wanted to now open that up to really include whole families,” she said.

The concert will feature Alexander L’Estrange’s collection of songs Ahoy! Sing for the Mary Rose. “We’ll have about 160 singers from community choirs here including children, so everybody will be involved. And you don’t actually need to be a member of a choir to take part! So I think that’s going to be something that’s very thrilling.”

So where can we see Stott’s personality shining through most clearly? “In a way I don’t think it’s one single thing, it’s about how something is put together,” she says. “The framework is still very much the same, but I think my tastes are extremely eclectic. I think [the program] does represent me and what I’m looking for in music. It expresses the fact that I’m interested in music from all across the globe. I think I’ve maybe just pushed the boundaries just a little bit further than they have been in the past,” she says.

“What you want in the end is to bring a collection of amazing people, amazing musicians, that are firmly committed to the idea of collaborative music-making,” she said. “What I’m really fascinated with is this cross fertilisation that happens.”

The Australian Festival of Chamber Music is in Townsville, Queensland, July 27 to August 5. General public ticket sales commence April 4.

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