In 1994, Ursula Callus founded the Canberra International Music Festival (CIMF) as the major initiative of Pro Musica Incorporated, a non-profit community organisation dedicated to expanding performance opportunities in Canberra. From a modest beginning, the festival has achieved a sophistication that is underpinned by an experienced team of volunteers on the logistical side and a legacy of significant international music contacts, built over the years by successive directors and consolidated by departing director Chris Latham.
Reviewing the festival is always challenging as there is a feast of concerts.
The Pianist concert at the Fitters' Workshop (resplendent with its new rainbow glass windows) was a celebration of wartime piano works. I have found the concerts I have attended this year profoundly moving for the way in which the voices of so many young composers from earlier generations, who were killed or scarred as a result of the two World Wars, have been brought to life. To revive the music of these young men is to remind us of the tremendous creative spirit that will not be defeated.
Adam Cook, here from Paris before returning to his studies, combined strength and passion in his interpretation of Bela Bartok's 1916 Romanian Folk Dances and Leo Weiner's 1941 Hungarian Folk Dances, before joining Tamara-Anna Cislowska for the extraordinarily lush Concertino for Two Pianos by Władyslaw Szpilman.
Bengt Forsberg played a contrasting bracket with a more introspective mood, with intense focus: Alberic Magnard's En Dieu mon esperance et mon epee pour ma defense followed by a selection from Seven Preludes by a favourite composer of mine, William Baines. Calvin Bowman supported this mood change, his ethereal passages in Andre Devaere's Grave et poignant reminding the listener of emotions other than aggression that attend an individual's experience of war.
Daniel de Borah was graceful in his stylistic approach, even when consumed by the whirlwind of intellectual and physical battle within the score of Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No.7. The work is as much about the conflicted soul of the composer as the physical manifestations of war. The final movement was a tour de force, beautifully complemented by Cislowska's serene performance of Szpilman's 1943 Mazurka.
Highlights of the rich program for the Gala Concert in the Albert Hall were many: a new arrangement of Glenda Cloughley's women's Acknowledgment of Country, a nice counter-balance for the following rumbustious, comic masculine vocal depiction of a battle skirmish in Clement Janequin's La Guerre. Adam Cook's arrangement of Nigel Westlake's The Eternal Fountainhead cleverly showcased the baroque flute and oboe against the sound-cloud of the strings. Simone Riksman gave an electric performance of Enrique Granados' Love and Death and Elena Kats-Chernin delighted with her accompaniment of the superb tenor, Christopher Saunders, singing her composition, The Sleeper.
After interval, Elizabeth Wallfisch directed a magnificent performance of Heinrich Biber's Battalia, highlighting the comic irony of humans at war and ascribing just the right amount of pathos to the final evocation of the sounds of the dying on the battlefield. Timothy Young, Daniel de Borah and Adam Cook shared the piano stool to recreate a work written by Jean Cras for his daughters: The Souls of the Infants. It was a great treat to observe, close at hand, the distinctive styles of these talented pianists and hear how each accommodated the other to produce the lovely meditative music.
Best of all was the concluding Bach Cantata. Despite some balance issues, and a few unscored sounds from the trumpets, the spirit of the music was exuberant; The Song Company and guests at their best; and the flute and oboe made sure the audience was transported to heaven in the fifth aria, in time to enjoy the final chorale from seats among the angels.