The changing face of chamber music in Australia

Opera song

Mezzo-soprano Sally-Anne Russell is the new co-artistic director of the revitalized Albury Chamber Music Festival, sharing direction with conductor, Mario Dobernig. Together, they prepare their first festival, on the theme “The year of the voice”. From November 4 to 6, the festival will offer 10 concerts over three days in three locations.

Launched in April 2022, the Albury Chamber Music Festival offered an ‘immersive concert pass’ and sold out its first set of concerts in just over two weeks. They have put on sale a second series which is selling at a brisk pace, and have already made a budget for 2022.

“Albury is an ideal city for a festival and we attract audiences from Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne, as well as from across Australia. People are eager to get social again and travel again,” says Russell.

“What attracts me to the presentation of chamber music is the intimacy of the concerts. Our rooms can accommodate up to 100 people, allowing musicians and audiences to connect and encourage interaction. From my experience as a performer, audiences really appreciate the close connection that chamber music concerts provide,” she told ArtsHub.

A wide range of chamber music offerings

Albury is just one of many chamber music festivals springing up or reinvigorating their programs across the country post-COVID.

Many of these festivals are three-day events spread over a weekend, with many taking place in wineries or spacious heritage buildings, where chamber music is presented alongside specialist food and wine events. With many festivals canceled due to COVID in 2020 and 2021, their return in 2022 has reconnected with audiences eager to escape post-lockdown. There is also a renewed appetite for lifestyle weekends that offer great music and the opportunity to socialize in intimate and beautiful surroundings.

In 2022 the range of small chamber music festivals included Bendigo in February, Blackheath in April, the first Coffs Harbor Festival in April, Orange in May, Stradbroke Island in July, Bangalow in August, Sunshine Coast and Tyalgum festivals in September, and Tasmania in October. In addition, a large number of vineyard concerts and small weekend festivals featuring chamber music events paired with local wines and food have taken place across the Barossa, McClaren Vale, Hunter, Margaret River and the Scenic Rim.

Mainstream chamber music festivals

Two of the biggest chamber music festivals in Australia are the annual Australian Chamber Music Festival (ACMF) held in Townsville in July and August, and the Canberra International Music Festival (CIMF) in May. Both take place over two weekends and encompass 10 days of activities, encouraging audiences to participate throughout the festival.

Renowned British violinist Jack Liebeck is the ACMF’s recently appointed Artistic Director, having performed at many of their past festivals. Liebeck is no stranger to organizing festivals, having been artistic director of the Oxford Chamber Music Festival for the past 14 years. The ACMF, now in its 32n/a year of operation, lost festivals due to COVID in 2020 and 2021, so there was some rebuilding to do with audiences.

Liebeck is delighted that his first Australian festival went extremely well, telling Arts Hub: “I don’t think it could have gone better. The feedback was very positive and we hit our targets in terms of ticket sales and attendance, which I think was quite rare due to COVID and a two-year absence.

New program ideas, and involving the local community more by creating family-friendly and more free, outdoor events, seemed to be very well received in 2022 and bode well for Liebeck’s vision for the 2023 festival and beyond.

Liebeck thinks chamber music is in very good shape around the world, saying, “I don’t think it’s ever been healthier. There are more chamber music festivals in Europe and America, for example, than ever before and Australia is taking inspiration from them. These festivals have grown exponentially over the past 20 years and the best soloists are now playing chamber music, which did not happen so much in the past. So the quality of the game, as well as our ability to attract great musicians, is of the highest order.

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Roland Peelman has been the artistic director of the Canberra International Music Festival (CIMF) since 2015, completing its eighth festival in May this year. Held in several venues across the city, the festival takes place over 10 days and two weekends and is ideally placed for audiences from Melbourne and Sydney.

The Canberra International Music Festival is primarily a chamber music festival, but Peelman also programs smaller orchestral events, which blur the lines between musical forms. The moniker “chamber” was dropped in order to embrace First Nations music, baroque and specialized instrumentation, including early instruments. This gives variety and diversity to artists and audiences.

Peelman is passionate about the importance and relevance of chamber music today and believes that as an art form it is in excellent shape, especially in Western musical cultures, including Australia, Australia, Australia, and Australia. North America and Europe.

He says, “Its popularity is because it’s an intimate experience that gives people a rich, sophisticated musical experience that’s free of gimmicks, bells and whistles, and substantial. Chamber music represents one of the deepest and most thoughtful musical expressions we have culturally.

“Both Puccini and Verdi wrote string quartets as did all great composers (except Wagner) and they are still written and enjoyed today because people will always want to come together in small, intimate circles and enjoy of that kind of musical experience,” says Peelman. .

Chamber music orchestras

Australia’s most famous chamber music orchestra is the internationally acclaimed Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO), led by Richard Tognetti for over 25 years. The ACO has toured extensively overseas and tours Australia regularly each year. Prestigious, they currently enjoy a residency at the Barbican in London.

Additionally, there are also a growing number of smaller-scale chamber orchestras across the country offering intimate, mostly string concerts that are well supported locally.

Camerata – The Queensland Chamber Orchestra has become a huge success since its inception over 30 years ago. With 19 players, its annual concert program includes both Brisbane and regional venues, with an education program and school and aged care performances as well as providing pit services for opera and ballet.

The Camerata musicians are super engaged and committed, always meeting their audience after their concerts. Artistic Director Brendan Joyce modestly states that “At its best, Camerata plays as well as any other chamber orchestra in the country.”

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He also points out that: “Quartets, chamber groups and chamber orchestras are places where you can really see people on stage and what they’re doing – it’s kind of easier to connect directly their. I know many audience members who love that feeling and it helps them connect more to the music.

Joyce’s view of the health of chamber music is very positive. He says, “I’m thrilled that a band like Camerata has made it through COVID and seen phenomenal audience growth over the past year. It gives me some confidence in our current programming and the trust we have established in our audience and subscribers.

Peelman summed up the experiences of chamber music very well by saying, “You close your eyes and the music unfolds wonderfully – you don’t need a picture, you don’t need a set, you don’t need a fabulous disguise or strong lighting. All you need are humans with great skills performing this music in front of you.

The Albury Chamber Music Festival takes place November 4-6 in Albury, NSW.