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2019 Bowral Autumn Music Festival Review

By Helen Musa OAM, Arts Editor for the Canberra CityNews magazine.

Hearty performances in autumnal Bowral

By  Helen Musa, April 1, 2019

Da Vinci's Apprentice.jpg

A SINGLE location, the beauties of autumnal Bowral and an astute balance of music old and new, contributed to a successful 2019 edition of the Bowral Autumn Music Festival.

“CityNews” made it to four of the nine concerts offered in this boutique festival, held within the precinct of the 1861 St Jude’s Church, now developed to provide reception and performance spaces outside the main church, which itself has a more-than-acceptable acoustic.  

Da Vinci’s Apprentice. Photo: Peter Hislop

Clearly aimed at an older demographic drawn largely from Sydney and the immediate region, the event began on Friday at lunchtime with three mostly classical recitals, enhanced by pianist Stefan Cassomenos and the performance of a string quartet newly commissioned by the festival from composer Alice Chance.  I arrived on Saturday in time to see that artistic director and violinist Myee Clohessy, had ticked one of the most important boxes for any contemporary festival, a focus on future generations of music lovers. This was achieved delightfully with the inclusion of “Da Vinci’s Apprentice”, a musical theatre work by three Canberrans, composer Sally Greenaway and scriptwriters Catherine Prosser and Paul Bisset, commissioned by Musica Viva Australia. By Saturday, actress/singer Brittanie Shipway, Jenny Eriksson on viola da gamba, John Foster on cornetto and Shaun Ng on theorbo had already performed it more than 120 times around New South Wales. A willing audience of adults and lots of very eager small children interacted with the story of Roberta, who is obliged to change herself into Roberto in order to become an acceptable (in gender) apprentice to the great artist inventor Leonardo Da Vinci. The children were quickly engaged in dialogue by the engaging Shipway playing Roberta and the instrumentalists, who replicated dialogue in music, introducing the children to the music of Leonardo’s time, getting them up on stage to perform actions to match great inventions like the “robotic knight” and the parachute and demonstrating how to play the viola da gamba.

A gala evening performance on the Saturday night showcased works performed by Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra Soloists, which had been written to bring the horn and the bassoon, to the centre, played on period instruments. Horn player Anneke Scott and bassoonist Lisa Goldberg, were the featured artists in works by Giovanni Punto and François Devienne, allowing the audience to see the instrumentalists up-close-up, with Scott’s hand-stopping technique proving especially intriguing. The full ensemble, with Scott, Goldberg, with clarinettist Nicole van Bruggen, violinist Anna McMichael, violist Simon Oswell, cellist Daniel Yeadon and bassist Kirsty McCahon then performed Beethoven – Septet in E flat, Op. 20, allowing their rare combination of instruments to interact in a playful way, with bassist McCahon leading the ensemble in visible expressions of sheer pleasure.

A musically-focused festival service took place on Sunday morning with, at the centre, performances by St. Jude’s Singers of Benjamin Britten’s “The Deum in C” and “Jubilate in C”, John Stainer’s “I saw The Lord” and several pieces and responses by William Byrd. Visitors too got the chance to join in with some hearty congregational singing, a peaceful beginning to the festival’s final day.

The last concert “CityNews” visited featured Canberra’s classical guitarist Matt Withers performing JS Bach’s Prelude, Fugue and Allegro BWV 998 solo. Then, along with the Acacia Quartet, which Clohessey directs, he performed the winners in the 2018 Matt Withers Australian Composition Competition, Nava Ryan’s haunting evocation of loneliness, “Solitude”, Rick Alexander’s highly coloured work “Storming” and first prize-winner, Wade Gregory’s “Water Music”.  Withers and the Acacia Quartet have recorded the works, along with veteran composer Robert Davidson’s “Landscape”.

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