Shrouded in historic gardens, Vaucluse House feels cut off from the outside world and its troubles – the perfect place for an eclectic collection of intimate concerts. Sydney Festival’s Salon Season is just that. Following on from their performance with Melbourne Digital Concert Hall last year, pianist and composer Daniel Rojas collaborated once again with Ensemble Apex Strings – Anna Da Silva Chen (Violin I), Emily Beauchamp (Violin II), Sophie Nickel (Viola), and Noah Oshiro (Cello) – to perform a fusion of music from Latin America in a more classical chamber music context. It was an hour of musical escapism at its finest.

Daniel RojasDaniel Rojas performing at the Sydney Festival. Photo © Yaya Stempler

Rojas is a master of his craft, both as a pianist and composer. He played with exuberance and a clear love of the style throughout the evening. His compositions in the program presented an affecting marriage of old styles and new musical ideas. A particular highlight of his output was the piece Navegar. Filled with lush harmonies, the piece (described as a slower tango) was a more gentle addition to the evening, making beautiful use of the full quintet’s sound. Another of Rojas’ pieces, Saltango (which opened the evening) was a more boisterous and rousing dance number, adeptly played by the ensemble. Rojas’ improvisational prowess also deserves a mention. He realised free flowing cadenzas with precision and immense grace.

When it came to the more classic pieces from the tango repertoire, these were similarly well handled by the ensemble. All specifically arranged by Rojas for the program, they were intricately played with gusto and flare. Throughout the whole concert, the rapport amongst the instrumentalists was clear and delightful to watch. The performance of Rodríguez’s La Cumparsita was a stirring homage to one of the more familiar pieces in the genre. The arrangement of Piazzolla’s Libertango was frenetic, and again played wonderfully by all. In contrast, the more sultry Besame Mucho by Consuelo Velázquez brought out contrasting colours after the more upbeat numbers.

Daniel Rojas and Ensemble Apex Strings in Mambo InfluenciadoDaniel Rojas and Ensemble Apex Strings in Mambo Influenciado. Photo © Yaya Stempler

Rojas introduced each piece of the course of the evening, taking the opportunity to connect with the small crowd. Filled with charming anecdotes and enlightening information about the history and music being presented, he dispelled any barriers between the open air stage and the socially distanced (and masked) audience. There was a clear joy throughout the entire performance from both the musicians and the audience.

It is a welcome diversion these days to be able to ignore the outside world and indulge in uplifting music surround on a summer’s evening. Daniel Rojas and Ensemble Apex Strings provided a wonderful program of familiar music and inventive new pieces, complementing the environment they were in with gusto and exuberance.

Supported by the City of Sydney

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