Total immersion

Naomi Roseth writes that she has just returned from spending eight days at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville, now in its 28th year.  Here is her memoir of the week. 

I have attended the festival once before and sure hope to get there again.  For top quality music, ambiance and relaxation, I reckon this festival is hard to beat. 

Starting the day with a rock pool swim in the balmy weather of Northern Queensland, breakfast overlooking Magnetic Island and a stroll along the Strand to the morning’s first event – a conversation hour, set me nicely for the day.  The Festival’s new director, Kathryn Stott, chats every morning to a group of musicians, making their subsequent performances more relevant and alive. 

A concert follows, then a master class.  

A welcome siesta and some free time are followed by an afternoon and evening concerts.  A week of three concerts a day plus several additional ‘treats’ is rather intense.  Some choose to skip concerts here and there but I got a ‘Gold Pass’ and did not miss a note.  I love this time of total and exclusive immersion in music. 

For balance of programming the Townsville festival gets full marks.  We were exposed to an amazing array of works old and new, familiar and unfamiliar, challenging and relaxing, deeply moving and more casual.  The musicians came from all over the world; some young and some more mature.  And as for the range of instruments, there were of course plenty of strings but also others – for example a very pleasing combination of bandoneon, marimba and sheng.  

And then there were the special features:  a resident composer, Julian Yu, a cello octet – pleasing to the ear and eye alike and the splendid Goldner Quartet.  They have been playing in the Townsville festival for 25 years! 

The highlights? There were so many. 

Perhaps the concert that moved me most was the one in which we heard Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’, Shostakovich’s last work – a sonata for viola and piano, and Massiaen’s ‘Quartet for the End of Time’.  A sad theme ran through these pieces, but it touched me to my core. 

Then to lighten things up, a theme in a subsequent evening was ‘Love’!  

Finally, one masterclass stands out.  It was conducted by the renowned British clarinettist, Julian Bliss.   I wished that the entire Choir was there.  So much of what Julian said about focus, direction, colour, breath and commitment, echoed Carlos’ words to the Choir on a Thursday evening.