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2021 BAMF Overview by Elizabeth Dalton 

The 2021 Bowral Autumn Music Festival, held over the weekend of March 25-28 at St Jude’s Church, was celebrated with great enthusiasm and appreciation as, due to last year’s unfortunate cancellation, this was one of the first opportunities for performers and audiences to enjoy live music once again. Artistic Director, Myee Clohessy, presented a sumptuous program with an underlying thread of female composers and a great line up of artists. Festival Director played his customary organ preludes each day and to cater for restricted numbers it was decided to repeat some of the programs and offer more concerts of shorter length. An Education Day on Thursday provided a marvellous opportunity for some talented local students to imbibe inspiration from some of the Festival performers before the concerts got under way. 


The first concert was a beautiful combination of organ and oboe featuring Simon Nieminski, Assistant Music Director of St Mary’s Cathedral and Emerging Artist, Mikaela Sukkar.  Starting with a Bach Prelude and Fugue, we were at once presented with a virtuoso performance from Simon. Anna Amalia’s Sonata for Oboe and Organ followed and then Thomas Best’s Organ Concerto based on those of Handel. Mikaela then showcased the oboe in some solo études by the French oboist, Gilles Silvestrini.  Simon returned to the stage to display the dynamic range of organ in Chelsea Chen’s Taiwanese Suite, with a flavour of traditional Asian tonalities, and a toccata-like tone poem, Nuages ensoleillés sur le Cap Negre   by Eugene Reuschel, which captured the impressionistic shimmer of sun-tinged clouds in the French Riviera. The final work on the program which had been commissioned for last year’s Festival was at last given its world première performance. The composer, Sarah Elise Thompson, was in the audience to speak of her inspiration. She wanted to compose a work that remembered her late godmother, an organist who used to visit the countryside of Bowral in her youth enjoying leisure time and relaxation with her friends. Retreat for Oboe and Organcaptures their freedom and escape from the business of life. Sarah expressed great delight that her fellow uni student friend, Mikaela Sukkar, was the first oboist to perform the work.


Concert 2 featured Claire Edwardes, Australia’s doyenne of percussion, playing marimba, vibraphone and waterphone. Delighted to be back before a live audience, Claire proudly introduced her range of instruments. She began with a Bach chorale on her five-octave marimba followed by a transcription of some of the movements from the master’s Lute Suite. Two new works by the young Australian, Ella Macens, were then presented with the composer present to receive an enthusiastic ‘live’ applause. The remainder of the program included works by contemporary composers, including Edwardes’ own Ether Lines, composed for waterphone, which she described as sounding a bit “like a whale call”, but is actually the creation of American musician Richard Waters. The vibraphone featured in Andrew Ford’s Hook, commissioned by Claire, as well as in two delightful compositions by Elena Kats-Chernin, Violets’ Etude and Poppy’s Polka, dedicated to Claire’s daughters. The concert concluded with a virtuosic showpiece by Matthew Hindson, appropriately entitled Flash.


Friday night saw the first appearance of Acacia Quartet, the Festival’s much-loved ensemble-in-residence. This was an emotional performance as they had very recently been dealt a hard blow with the untimely death of their friend and colleague, Taryn Fiebig, who was to have sung with them in this program. The concert opened with a selection of art songs, Mopoke and I Thought I Heard a Magpie Call by early Australian composer Alfred Hill, reflecting a European perception of the Australian bush, and five songs arranged for soprano and string quartet by Ann Carr-Boyd from compositions by pioneering Australian composer Peggy-Glanville Hicks. Amy Moore stepped up to learn this repertoire at very short notice and exhibited a beautiful lyric soprano voice combined with expressive presentation. The quartet then performed the String Quartet by Fanny Mendelssohn, a large-scale work of Beethoven proportions. It was played with passion and supreme technical skill, with emotions ranging from quiet anguish in the opening movement to lighter relief in the scherzo-like Allegretto, followed by a poignant ‘Romanze’ and concluding with a breath-taking tear-away finish. Our ensemble-in-residence once again displayed their consummate musicianship. In a very moving tribute to Karyn Fiebig, Acacia and Amy then performed How Slow the Wind by Osvaldo Golijov. This was a very moving and emotional performance of a work which aptly addresses the concepts of love and loss. To close out the program and provide some light relief, Amy Moore joined Acacia in Iain Grandage’s tongue-in-cheek version of The Owl and the Pussycat, performed with great panache.


Concert 4 on Saturday morning featured two young rising stars – Ava Pudney on organ and harp and Clara He on organ. They performed works by Bach, Tailleferre, Gigout, Mendelssohn, Demessieux, Grandjany, Saint-Saens, Hasselmans and Tournier. Both girls left no doubt that they have successful futures ahead of them. Congratulations to both for their challenging and well-executed programs.


The next two concerts on Saturday were repeat performances by Claire Edwardes and the Acacia Quartet with Amy Moore. This allowed for another audience of 100 to comply with Covid restrictions.


On Saturday night concert pianist, Leanne Jin gave a recital of works by Cécile Chaminade, Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann, Scriabin and the contemporary Spanish female composer, Elisenda Fábregas. Leanne had given a masterclass to a number of local students on Thursday where she exhibited sensitivity and style. These same attributes were a feature of her own performances, her program being repeated on Sunday afternoon before the Festival was brought to a close with Evensong, officiated by Reverend Gavin Perkins.


Whilst there was an underlying sadness to BAMF 2021 there was also a strong feeling of joy that only live performance can generate. To Festival Director, Allan Beavis, Artistic Director, Myee Clohessy, Festival Administrator, Eliza Corley and her team and especially to all the performers and composers we say thank you for reviving this wonderful musical event. 

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