Above – Nina Korbe (Soprano), Quartet in Residence, the Orava Quartet. Cover – Courtenay Cleary (violin), Chaeeun Oh (violin), James Wanna (viola). Photos – Claudia Rose

What do I have in common with Southern Cross Soloists presenting their 20th Bangalow Chamber Music Festival? It is my twentieth anniversary, too! Wow, you may say … but the ‘wow’ factor here, as Tania Frazer (Artistic Director) admitted, is that “many festivals die after ten years. Festivals are hard to organise … but ours has gone from strength to strength.”

Waiting in the foyer of the magnificent A&I Hall in Bangalow, I am listening to the soon-to-be-audience commenting on the hall; the expectation and the excitement of bearing witness to the past, whilst embracing the future with the 2023 Next Gen Artists about to perform. Many comments on COVID and the dearth of music for two years and how a festival represents, to them, a “waterfall of music”. Over the duration of the four day festival, never a truer word spoken.

As we filed into the acoustically superior A&I Hall (touted by many a touring professional musician as being one of the best halls they have ever performed in, worldwide) we did not know just what to expect. Local’s night and a taste-plate for the musically ravenous. Emerging stars, award-winning scholarship recipients and SXS Next Gen Artists (ten years of mentoring, over 40 musicians going on to professional careers in Australia, Europe and USA) wake us up and put an ear-to-ear smile on our faces as we know the future of music is in safe hands. Introduced by James Wannan (viola on steroids) as “almost as good as a string quartet ha ha”, he sat amongst the Next Gen string-quartet with him making up the quintet. He conducted with his eyes, and every body movement, no-one in doubt as to where to go next, whilst Next Gen’s fingers never left their hands! Mesmerising to watch the melding of musicians.

Local’s night is all about the emerging stars of tomorrow and without sponsorships, scholarships and affording young creatives a chance, the musical world would stop turning. Bangalow Chamber Music Festival embraces all possibilities and opportunities, with stunning results. Nina Korbe (2023 Vocal Scholarship recipient) sings ‘Where?’ from The Rabbits (Kate Miller-Heidke) with crystal-clarity, making tears flow throughout the audience.

When Tania Frazer remarked at the beginning of the festival, how much work goes into creating and sustaining such a ‘gig’ – it resonated immediately. However, only at the completion of the BCMF did I realise fully the length-and-breadth of such a venture. Even now, in my limited space to wax-in-wonderment at the level of expertise shown at every note on every instrument, who does one regale? Which performer? Which instrument? Composer? The program is staggering. However, let’s go to the finale, to do a bit of gushing.

Konstantin Shamray (piano) with his laconic and passionate presence, sweet to start then turbulent resonance, full-throttle with a torrent of emotion, his twenty hands (surely) creating a festival unto himself. Rachmaninov – Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini blew the audience away. Three standing ovations. “Rachmaninov’s composition artfully explores the theme’s transformation through a series of variations, showcasing his deep understanding of both piano and orchestral textures ... his ability to bridge classical traditions with his distinct musical voice.”

James ‘Element of Surprise’ Wannan, ‘Carmen-ing’ it up, set the tone for the Chamber … every ‘pluck’ a laugh from the appreciative audience, romancing the strings, tempting and teasing with a larrikin look. Playful ‘string-offs’; enter the flute with piano/cello holding hands in harmony. The laughing viola, taunting and tempting (through the entire festival – where do you get the energy from Mr Wannan?). Taunting flute (Emma Sholl, amazing) responding in kind. Carmen’s like that, I guess! Courtenay Cleary (violin victorious) commanding performance, talent unleashed and the audience goes wild. Maxwell Foster, with piano attached at the hip, for sure, doesn’t look old enough to have the musical CV he has, but I hear music keeps you young?

Keeping young, and helping create futures for the young, enter Tania Frazer with oboe and oh-boy can Tania launch an oboe. When Ashley Smith (clarinet) and Nick Mooney (French horn) join the fray, the audience hangs off every luminescent note. Fantasy and far-reaching resonance – an absolute joy to witness.

Let’s end the concert with Misirlou, a traditional folk melody with origins in the Eastern Mediterranean: “Misirlou serves as a reminder of the interconnectedness of global musical influences, illustrating how a traditional melody can transcend borders and time to leave an indelible mark on contemporary music.” Couldn’t have said it better myself (I am half Greek!). Hyung Suk Bae on cello and Dusan Walkowicz on double bass; a magnificent eight strings, three pianists (Vatche Jambazian’s turn to shine on piano) with Maxwell Foster on bongos and Konstantin Shamray on a block of wood (ha ha). Emma Sholl, Courtenay Cleary, Southern Cross Soloists and SX Next Gen Artists make for a full finale. ALL FOR ONE AND ONE FOR ALL.

Push the chairs back, get into the aisles and let’s dance ... opa!

Note: They say it takes a village ... well, Bangalow is that village and the endless efforts from mentors, sponsors, teachers, and various arts grants, keeping the music and talent alive, is worthy of note, with Tania Frazer doing a herculean heavy-lifting event every year, for over twenty years. Keep the arts alive and ‘get with the program’. Check it out, I’ve run out of room!

Event details

Southern Cross Soloists (SXS)
Bangalow Chamber Music Festival 2023

Artistic Director Tania Frazer

Venue: Various | Bangalow, Byron Bay, NSW
Dates: 17 – 20 August 2023
Bookings: www.southernxsoloists.com


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