Various venues, Barossa Valley
September 29 and 30

Artistic Director Sharon Grigoryan handpicked some of her favourite performers for this two-day mini-festival filled with good music, good food and good fun. Though it comprised only four concerts, Barossa Baroque and Beyond (BBB) managed to traverse two thousand years of musical variety, from the ancient sounds of native North American flutes, to the very contemporary sampling and looping of Adelaide-based talent Adam Page.

Julian Ferraretto and Dean Newcomb. All photos supplied 

The festival took place in and around Tanunda in South Australia’s Barossa Valley, performing out of a neat circle of nearby venues, and showcasing the regional beauties of scenery and history. The influence of the famed Barossa food culture was never far away, with three out of four events incorporating fine wining and dining. Even this offered a good variety, from a balcony performance at the Peter Lehmann winery, accompanied by drinks on the lawn, to a sit-down concert at the fermentAsian restaurant in town.

At this, the official festival opener, piano-violin duo Joe Chindamo and Zoë Black provided an exciting aural counterpart to the menu. While fermentAsian chef Tuoi Do sent up Southeast Asian dishes with a modern twist, the duo played well-known classics in Chindamo style, spiced with jazz and Latin flair. Chopin’s soulful Prelude in E Minor was reinvented as a tango, Black’s violin slipping throatily over a teasing, sleazy melody. More beautiful was an adaption of the Handel aria Lascia ch’io pianga, its anguish sharpened to keenness by achingly dissonant harmonies.

There were plenty of Chindamo originals as well, and the duo played with a verve and intensity that bypassed the pedantry of mere technical perfection and went straight to the heart of the music. Black in particular made her instrument a kaleidoscope of sound, taking risks, finding grungy, screechy harmonics and a velvety sensuousness of tone even in the violin’s upper register. Shying neither from the light-hearted nor the intense, this performance deserved a dedicated space and time of its own.

This year, Barossa Baroque and Beyond fulfilled the promise of its title in blending old and new. At the Tanunda Organ Gallery Recital the next afternoon, original works by performers appeared alongside 16th-century dance suites. These last were contributed by the consort Unholy Rackett (Simon Rickard, Brock Imison and Jackie Newcomb), a trio of Australian bassoonists who also play extinct Renaissance reed instruments: bassoon-like curtals and ancient, idiosyncratic racketts.

Leonard Grigoryan, Slava Grigoryan and Adam Page

When they were joined by Josh van Konkelenberg on chamber organ, the result was a rich texture of seldom-heard sounds: the curtals were warm, but with an antique roughness, and the racketts were characterised by a surprisingly endearing buzz. Beneath them all was the ‘great bass rackett’, lower than a double bass, with a deep guttural drone like an elephantine bee.

Including other works for pipe organ, chamber organ and woodwind, the recital seemed at first to present an integrated experience, exploring a rich variety of wind timbres. Though excellently performed, a set of guitar duos by the Grigoryan brothers did appear as somewhat of a musical outlier on the programme. The magnificently-restored Hill & Son pipe organ which backs the stage, and which it is the dedicated purpose of the hall to house, was featured only briefly. As one of the region’s most impressive musical assets, this instrument could perhaps have received a stronger emphasis.

Improvised performance turned out to be a secondary theme at BBB, giving a touch of freshness and spontaneity to the festival mood. At Jazz Musings on Sunday afternoon, guests sipped local wines and sat at shady picnic tables while listening to the gleaming outpourings of Dean Newcomb (clarinet), Julian Ferraretto (violin) and Mark Ferguson (keyboard). Later in the evening, BBB artists all improvised together in the festival finale, an uproarious cabaret-style jam session in which Adam Page was the chief culprit.

Adam Page and musicians

Using looping pedals, effects and sampling, Page transformed himself into a one-man band with a split-second sense of timing. He’d beatbox a couple of rhythms, layer them, add a looping bass line and some percussion, and then take to his saxophone. He would record and layer that as well, making it happen on the fly, staying light on his feet, until it sounded like there were two or three saxes playing in harmony with each other.

Other BBB artists joined Page in various combinations through the night, and with such a diverse pool of musicians to draw from, the ensemble possibilities were endless. Musicians appeared in new guises – Chindamo now played a piano accordion, and van Konkelenberg took up the woodblocks! The sounds on offer ranged from the peaceful strains of Grigoryan guitars and Page’s wooden flutes, to a ‘techno-dance-rap’ which Page started by sampling the Renaissance-era music of Unholy Rackett. All this madness was hilariously compered by Jane Doyle, in ordinary life a news presenter, but clearly an established BBB personality as well.

This was Barossa Baroque and Beyond’s fourth iteration: an eclectic blend, occasionally somewhat disjointed, but presented with artistry and plenty of fun. With its supporting cast of fine wines, and a tendency towards blending music and dining experiences, the festival faithfully reflects the ‘good living’ culture of the Barossa region.

It’s a young tradition yet, but BBB has received a solid grounding, and in 2019, the festival will pass a noteworthy milestone as it turns five. This year’s outing promises good things for the birthday celebrations!