An annual feast for the senses, the Huntington Estate Music Festival – which takes place in the Barrel Hall and grounds of the Huntington Estate Winery in Mudgee in November – is now in its 29th year. While picturesque setting, gourmet food and award-winning wines are all important draw cards, it’s the music – presented in association with Musica Viva – that audiences flock to taste, and Festival Artistic Director Carl Vine makes sure each vintage is completely unique.

“I try to make every Huntington Festival as different as possible from its predecessors, and this always begins with the choice of instruments, and choice of specific artists,” Vine tells Limelight. “A stellar violinist or singer one year, then harp, guitar or multiple winds another. Or, as we have in even years like 2018, the Chamber Orchestra of the Australian National Academy of Music.”

Huntington Music FestivalRay Chen, Dene Olding and musicians from the Australian National Academy of Music at the 2014 Huntington Estate Music Festival. Photo: supplied

“My next step is to find out what repertoire the artists would especially like to perform in this unusual forum, given the often strange ensembles and subsets that become available,” he says. “This has always resulted in some extraordinary, unfamiliar and exciting repertoire that adds enormous richness to the experience.”

For Vine, programming for Huntington is a different experience to Musica Viva’s International Concert Season – and it offers opportunities for unique flavour combinations. “The International Season means flying musicians all around the country, sometimes twice, and large ensembles become prohibitively expensive,” he says. “Once all of our players make it to Mudgee, they have nothing to do but play music together, and I can throw together all sorts of ensembles large and small to present repertoire that is untenable on a concert tour. Unlike a tour, at the start of a festival many of the musicians have never met before, so the first concerts feature solos and small ensembles building slowly in size, complexity and familiarity until the closing concert on Sunday morning.”

Huntington Estate Music FestivalThe Huntington Estate Music Festival. Photo: supplied

The artists thrown into the mix for this year’s festival include the Goldner String Quartet, Orava String Quartet, pianists Jayson Gillham, Aura Go and Amir Farid as well as oboist Cristina Gomez Godoy, clarinettist Sebastian Manz and soprano Taryn Fiebig.

The program will cater to a range of palates, with mature vintages such as Mozart, Weber and Brahms presented alongside some robust Shostakovich and Britten, as well as exciting new music by contemporary Australian composers – including a world premiere by rising star Elizabeth Younan. “Right now Elizabeth hasn’t completed her first string quartet, Interwoven, so this music is going to be as fresh and sparkling as new music can be,” Vine says. “I have been working with Liz on her compositions through her final undergraduate and post-graduate years at the Sydney Conservatorium so have a privileged insight into her creative process. She has an utterly unique and intimate relationship with her melodic material that gives extraordinary strength to the music, and the concept of interweaving melodic strands into a monolithic musical fabric is a perfect way for her to tackle the composer’s ultimate Olympic challenge, the string quartet.”

Amelia Farrugia, Huntington Estate Music FestivalAmelia Farrugia and the ATOS Trio at the 2010 Huntington Estate Music Festival. Photo: supplied

So, as the master sommelier, what is Vine’s pick of the bunch? “I really hate picking out ‘highlights’ from a festival program, as I honestly feel every moment of the festival program is equally splendid, and each spoke of the festive ‘wheel’ mutually supports every other one,” he says. “Individual patrons will have their own highlights, but I am looking forward to the Australian premiere of Alexandre Tansman’s rarely heard concerto for oboe and clarinet, featuring Cristina Gómez Godoy (Spain) and Sebastian Manz (Germany); the Elgar Piano Quintet played by Jayson Gillham (UK/Australia) and the Goldner String Quartet; Taryn Fiebig singing Schumann’s magnificent Liederkreis with Amir Farid (USA/Australia) on piano; Aura Go (Finland/Australia) playing Ravel’s peerless Miroirs; the ANAM Chamber Orchestra playing Grieg’s wonderful Holberg Suite; and the world premiere of a new string octet by Harry Sdraulig played by the Goldner and Orava String Quartets.”

All of which should make for intoxicating listening. “There is just under 12 hours of remarkable music in the festival, so I hope you understand how hard it was to isolate this particular tiny sample!” Vine says. “There is of course plenty of classic repertoire as well, including Mendelssohn’s Sixth String Quartet, Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet, Clarinet Quintets by Mozart and Weber, the Vaughan Williams’ Oboe Concerto, Schumann’s Waldszenen – Oh yes, and about eight hours more.”


The Huntington Estate Music Festival runs November 17 to 25. Tickets go on sale July 9

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