2019 BAMF Overview by Elizabeth Dalton
The Bowral Autumn Music Festival now in its 13th year was held over three days from 29-31 March. St Jude’s Church in Bowral is a perfect venue for chamber ensembles, and the adjacent hospitality space and auditorium lends itself well to pre- and post-concert conviviality. The Festival consisted of 9 concerts with appeal for all sectors of the community, featuring classical and contemporary works, a children’s pageant and the works of several Australian composers, including a world première. A superb line-up of artists ensured that performances were of the highest standard.
The opening concert featured virtuoso pianist, Stefan Cassomenos, in recital. He structured his program around a waltz framework, beginning with Chopin’s Grande Valse Brillante. Ravel’s Sonatine followed in a homage to late eighteenth musical elegance and classical structure. Then in contrast we heard a contemporary work by Maria Grenfell, Choro, which was inspired by Brazilian choro and Argentinian tango music. Cassomenos displayed his great pianistic virtuosity in the next item, the Mephisto Waltz No.1 by Liszt which is a series of waltzes, ranging from fiery excitement to more subdued dreaminess. Andrei Schulz-Evler’s Arabesques on “An der schonen blauen Donau” completed the program, with a concert paraphrase on the famous ‘Blue Danube’ Waltz. In a colourful and exuberant performance, the soloist allowed his virtuoso skills to shine. The audience was then invited to a welcome reception in the foyer with a champagne toast to launch the Festival.
The second concert of the day featured two young recitalists – Marcus Michelsen on violin and Titus Grenyer on organ. Marcus performed Bach’s Sonata no. 1 for solo violin with great musicality and maturity beyond his 15 years. Titus performed one of his own compositions, entitled Epiphyte, a spiritual work inspired by the great composers, and also the Praeludium in D minor of Lὕbeck. Both artists played together in Albinoni’s Adagio and Rheinberger’s Praeludium Op. 166 for organ and violin, displaying mutual sensitivity as chamber players.
Concert 3 featured Acacia Quartet in a presentation of two classical masterworks and the world première of a new Australian work by Australian composer, Alice Chance. Their performance of Beethoven’s ‘Malinconia’ String quartet, Op. 18, no. 6 and Dvorak’s Piano quintet, Op. 81 with virtuoso pianist, Stefan Cassomenos, was full of all the expressiveness and energy that we have come to know and love from the Festival’s ensemble-in-residence. A Sundried String Quartet was especially written for the Festival and Acacia Quartet, and with the composer in attendance the audience was privileged to hear the ideas and musical concepts behind the work.
Day 2 commenced with the second “Young Recitalists” concert, featuring the Geist String Quartet. This Sydney-based ensemble opened the program with String Quartet No. 5 by Villa-Lobos, which explores popular Brazilian melodies and rhythms, and their performance captured the many contrasting moods of this inventive work. Schubert’s single-movement Quartettsatz followed by way of contrast. Then, High Tension Wires by Nigel Westlake allowed the quartet to explore some unusual musical effects. To conclude the program the quartet chose Four for Tango by Piazzolla, an avant-garde work which showcased their technical abilities and youthful energy.
In the afternoon a special concert was presented for children, entitled Da Vinci’s Apprentice. Staged in the auditorium at St Jude’s, this was an interactive musical show, commissioned by Musica Viva, featuring the music of Australian composer Sally Greenaway and script by writers Catherine Prosser and Paul Bissett. Set in the Renaissance period it called on three instruments of the period – cornetto, theorbo and viola da gamba. The children were invited to participate and responded with engagement and enthusiasm to the central character and the musicians. A delightful concert for our audience of tomorrow.
Concert 6 returned to the Church for a wonderful performance by the Australian Baroque Brass with organist David Drury. This ensemble plays on instruments of the period – the baroque trumpet, the cornetto (a wind instrument with a trumpet-like mouthpiece and a body more like a recorder), the sackbut (a precursor of the trombone) and the chamber organ (a small portable church organ). The program included brass ensemble music of many composers from the European baroque period and two works for solo organ by Buxtehude and Bach. The performers generously allowed the audience to have a close-up look and demonstration of their instruments following the concert.
In keeping with historically performed instruments, Concert 7 featured the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra Soloists. The program included a bassoon quartet by Francois Devienne, with soloist Lisa Goldberg and a horn quartet by Giovanni Punto, with soloist Anneke Scott. The entire ensemble including Goldberg, Scott, clarinettist, Nicole van Bruggen, violinist Anna McMichael, violist Simon Oswell, cellist Daniel Yeadon and bassist Kirsty McCahon then performed Beethoven’s Septet in E flat, Op. 20 which is one of the gems of the Classical wind/string chamber music repertoire. To hear it played on authentic period instruments was a rare and wonderful experience.
The Festival service on Sunday morning began the final day of the Festival with a performance by the St Jude’s Singers under the direction of Festival Director, Allan Beavis, of several preces and responses by William Byrd, Benjamin Britten’s Te Deum in C and Jubilate in C, and John Stainer’s
I saw The Lord.
The first concert of the day featured classical guitarist, Matt Withers with Acacia Quartet. Building on his love of guitar and string quartet repertoire, Matt established the Matt Withers Australian Music Composition Competition in 2014. The three prize winners for 2018 were all included in this concert, with three original compositions showcasing repertoire for this ensemble combination. 19-year-old, Nava Ryan, recipient of the Emerging Composer Award in the Competition, was present to hear his work, Solitude, a poignant depiction of loneliness. Second prize went to Rick Alexander for his work Storming, evoking the many stages of a storm at sea viewed from the shoreline. The first-prize was awarded to Wade Gregory’s Water Music, a three-movement work which focuses on the cyclical nature of water. Following these three contemporary Australian compositions, Matt returned to the music of the 18th century with a performance of Bach’s Prelude, Fugue and Allegro BWV 998 for solo guitar. The concert concluded with another Australian composition, Robert Davidson’s Landscape for guitar and string quartet.
The final concert of the Festival opened with a spirited presentation of Mozart’s ‘Dissonance’ Quartet performed by Acacia. Then an exciting collaboration between Acacia Quartet and leading string players of the local Southern Highlands Symphony Orchestra performed Elgar’s Serenade for Strings and Holst’s St. Paul’s Suite for chamber orchestra.
The organ in St Jude’s has always been a signature element of the Festival. As well as the organ recital in Concert 2, audiences receive the added bonus of hearing some organ pieces performed by Allan Beavis as a prelude to various concerts. This year he concentrated on single movements from the organ sonatas of Felix Mendelssohn.
The Bowral Autumn Music Festival is now established as a standout event on the Highlands’ arts calendar. The success of BAMF 2019 can be attributed to the vision, passion and commitment of Festival Director, Allan Beavis and Artistic Director, Myee Clohessy, together with Festival Administrator, Eliza-Jane Corley and members of the Festival Committee.