★★★★★ A celebration of listening and a profound meditation upon the power of place.

Ngeringa Cultural Centre, Mount Barker
April 23-24, 2016

The collaborations of recorder virtuoso Genevieve Lacey are invariably imaginative, creative and engaging, yet her most recent offering has raised the bar, even for Lacey, to stratospheric heights. It is difficult to imagine how Ngeringa 24, an assemblage of some of the nation’s most sensitive and gifted artists at the recently completed Ngeringa Cultural Centre in the Adelaide Hills, could have been bettered. This two-day banquet of creativity saw Lacey team up with the Young Adelaide Voices, harpist Marshall McGuire, guitarist Karin Schaupp, cellist Umberto Clerici, jazz trumpeter Phil Slater, and writer Chloe Hooper, to perform five concerts over two days that chronicled light’s metamorphosis through sound.

The first concert on Saturday, appropriately entitled Daytide, began with a welcome to country from Peramangk Elder Ivan Copley, who paid respects to the original custodians of the land; a site of gathering, rituals and listening for many centuries. Devoted purely to the Young Adelaide Voices under the competent direction of Christie Anderson, particularly memorable was The Idea of North’s arrangement of the German traditional, My Three-Cornered Hat. The choir’s rich, full sound was a match made in heaven for Anton Johnson’s exquisite hexagonal acoustic in Alexander Tilley’s In Flanders Fields. Ahead of an upcoming tour in Europe, these young choristers proved they have a very bright future ahead of them.

Beginning at 2pm, the second concert was by far the most ambitious. Each of the performers had been asked by Lacey to bring a piece of music into the conversation that they held a particular affinity for. With such a diverse array of instruments, this could have been a recipe for disaster, but Lacey’s genius was to invite Walkley award-winning writer Chloe Hooper to select and read the poetry that could weave such a formally disparate melange of eras and styles into a coherent entity that never felt manufactured or artificial. Centred around the idea of ‘Noon’, Hooper read with brooding intensity excerpts from Philip Levine, Reginald Gibbons, Emily Dickinson, and many others. Chen Kehua’s Hypnosis at High Noon bookended the concert, and indeed this was a fitting choice – the mesmeric beauty of the entire programme was hypnotic.

There was something truly special about hearing Marshall McGuire perform two works from Ludovico Einaudi’s Stanze as the leaves of eucalypts swayed in the afternoon breeze against the stunningly beautiful backdrop of the sweeping Mount Barker hills. The charismatic Italian cellist Umberto Clerici was equally compelling, enveloping the room with his warm, voluptuous tone in the Prelude and Allemande from JS Bach’s Sixth Cello Suite. The concert concluded with an intoxicating performance of Tàrrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra from Karin Schaupp. Despite the astonishing diversity, these phenomenal artists were able to deliver a programme that seemed to transpire organically, assuming an inexplicably natural symbiosis with Ngeringa’s uniquely Australian landscape – a fitting testament of the power of music and poetry to transcend geological borders.

A fascinating panel discussion hosted by pianist and writer Anna Goldsworthy on the topic of listening provided a welcome interlude, wherein Lacey, Hooper and Clerici ruminated upon the importance of attentive listening in a contemporary world of ever-increasing speed and noise.

As twilight approached and the last hours of daylight slipped inexorably away, yet another kaleidoscopic programme was presented in the third concert, Dusk. Works from the 14th, 16th and 17th centuries were performed with unparalleled intimacy alongside compositions by Andrew Ford, Hollis Taylor and Peter Sculthorpe. Umberto Clerici and Karin Schaupp concluded the concert, giving a spellbinding account of Schubert’s Sonata in A Minor, D821 – originally written for the arpeggione and piano, here performed on cello and guitar.

The biggest contrast came with Owl Light. The final concert on Saturday comprised a triptych of live compositions by Phil Slater, Marshall McGuire, Jim Atkins and Genevieve Lacey, paired with poetic black and white cinematography from film-maker Sera Davies. This project began in a shearing shed on Black Ridge farm, and throughout these formless, improvised works, the influence of place was almost tactile. Genevieve Lacey’s contrabass recorder evoked the beating wings of insects and rustling leaves, whilst Phil Slater’s husky musings on trumpet provided a soporific, nocturnal sound world that traced a journey through dreams.

As a new day dawned, the festival came to poignant conclusion in Sunday morning’s culmination concert, which saw the artists all come together on stage simultaneously. Coming full circle, this final concert offered a time-lapse of the preceding 24 hours, passing through morning to midnight and finally celebrating the first blush of a new dawn. Like the previous Noon concert, poetry read by Chloe Hooper united a diverse programme. Lacey and Schaupp were particularly fine in Mendelssohn’s Scheidend, Op. 9 No 6, a performance of swooning serenity. Umberto Clerici again impressed in the seductive grace of Piazzolla’s Café 1930, as did the Young Adelaide Voices in the final work of the festival, the optimistic Shall We Dream? by Michael Atherton. A striking polyphony of voices and instrumental colours surrounded the audience, and the cumulative effect resembled a dialogue through the centuries, with voices both past and present echoing throughout eternity. Unsurprisingly, it generated a rapturous standing ovation from the capacity audience.

As listeners reluctantly departed from the auditorium, it was as if the linearity of time had been momentarily circumvented. There was that special afterglow that is reserved for only the most transcendent of concert experiences, an overwhelming sense of well-being that is as nourishing as it is palpable. Ngeringa 24 was a timely affirmation of the power of place that is too often forgotten in our conventional darkened city concert halls. There can be no place like this on Earth.