The Bendigo Chamber Music Festival has announced its 2022 program. Returning for its third year, co-directors Howard Penny and Chris Howlett have assembled a superb roster of Australian musicians. Sophie Rowell, Natsuko Yoshimoto, Sulki Yu, Grace Clifford, Stephen King, Tobias Breider, Daniel from Borah, Amir Farid, Donald Nicholson, Chloe Lankshear, David Elton, Charlotte Miles and Penny and Howlett themselves will all descend on the fourth largest city ââof Victoria for five days of musical creation in February.
None of these artists come with their own chamber lineup; instead, they’ll mix and match across 16 concerts, creating unique, one-off ensembles that may never perform together again – Farid, Yu, and Howlett performing Beethoven’s ‘Ghost’ trio, or Lankshear and Farid exploring Strauss and Messiaen. According to Howard Penny, that’s the fun part of hosting a festival like this.
âYou pull out your little black book and call all these amazing people, and a lot of times we’re able to bring together amazing artists who haven’t performed together yet,â he enthuses. âThis may be the first time they’ve met on stage. And it’s a fabulous pleasure.
We’re all entitled to a little fun, I think, after two years of canceled concerts and postponed plans. Penny, in her day job as head of strings at ANAM, has spent most of the last two years teaching music lessons on Zoom – “A world I don’t really want to inhabit in the future, to be honest, “he admits – and looks forward to hearing” live music from people live “again.
Incredibly, however, the Bendigo Festival was largely untouched by the pandemic – knock on wood. The first festival took place in February 2020, before COVID arrived in Australia; their second festival in early 2021 fell into that glorious pre-Delta bubble when life returned to normal; and now, thanks to the vaccines, their third festival also seems to be happening. Of course, it was not without tensions.
âThis year the planning was horrible,â says Penny. âWe basically planned it four times, with different artists and different programs. But we got there. And then of course, literally the day before the opening concert, Dan Andrews had a press conference at 10:30 p.m., which is never a good thing. We had a few artists from Brisbane, and they were afraid to go home without quarantine, and we had them on flights every day, to refresh them all. And then we also had contingency plans, to keep the program going, with people in Melbourne on hold. But we did, and we came to the end. And the festival took place, so that was a huge relief. And I hope 2022 will be smoother navigation!
âUncertainty has been the residual trauma of 2021. We can plan, but to what extent is it actually going to happen? How much can we count on? But it was a relief that things fell into place almost sooner, I think, than we had hoped, in terms of the fall of the borders between NSW and Victoria. This sort of thing is just a huge relief.
While it’s a shame not to be able to welcome international artists – the first year the European Chamber Orchestra, of which Penny has been a member since 1989, as resident artists – Penny relishes the presence of so many of world-class Australian musicians. the country at the same time.
âI think one of the really exciting things both for our planning and for the general public in Australia is realizing the incredible talent that we have in Australia,â he said. âIt is therefore by no means an ‘alternative’, second-rate festival. We all have these amazing people. And that has actually been very positive. “
âI like to plan festivals, for the public of course – but also for the artists too. I’ve done enough festivals in my life in various places, and it’s always the fun thing: people. But also the repertoire, to discover things that are not necessarily part of the regular fodder of a musical year program in large venues.
In addition to their concert program, Penny and Howlett have also included two special ‘Inside and Out’ conversations, where one of them discusses a topic close to their hearts, assisted by festival artists performing musical examples. live.
âIt’s a casual conversation with a portable mic: chat, music, chat, music,â says Penny. âJust a much more intimate setting to take in new information, I guess. Share our interest in particular things.
âChris explores the life and works of Clara Schumann, and for me it is the bohemianism of DvoÅÃ¡k Sextet, which involves all kinds of things like particular dance forms and dance rhythms, which underline her particular language; using string instruments, that sort of thing.
âFor me this is a very personal thing, because the last four years that I have worked with Harnoncourt in the European Chamber Orchestra, we have explored the music of the Danube – this is what we have done every year, DvoÅÃ¡k, Smetana. But let’s get back to exactly what makes bohemian music bohemian, and the specifics of DvoÅÃ¡k’s language, which is actually extraordinary, and too little explored and understood I think. So yes, it certainly won’t be a musicological discussion, but that explains why I’m excited about the DNA of these particular tracks.
As an example, Penny mentions the Furious Dance – a bohemian, alternating 2/4 and 3/4 time dance, with frequently changing accents – which DvoÅÃ¡k used in several of his works, most notably the eighth of his work. Slavic dances, and also in his Sextet. Smetana deploys a furious in The traded bride also, which Penny has firsthand experience with (or should this be the ‘first foot’?)
âIt was part of the staged version of The traded bride that we did with Harnoncourt, âsays Penny. âHe had a historic Czech dance teacher from Prague – she was a nervous little woman who was unbelievably intense, and she had brought the dances, and she was telling Harnoncourt what kind of tempo this particular polka must have. She was running the room, it was great. And the whole orchestra spent the afternoon dancing the historic polka, just to put the rhythms in our feet.
But yes there is a furious in The traded bride, and to see what that really means – nothing to do with “fury”, which of course we have in the back of our brains. But no, it’s a very specific village dance, and what it is. So yeah, things like that that I find fascinating.
The other particularity of the festival is of course the place itself. It’s clear from talking to Penny that Bendigo is a very special place in her heart, and that the festival was totally embraced by the city even after just two editions.
âBendigo has been just fantastic,â says Penny. âThe town of Bendigo started the conversation – we had had Bendigo weekends at the Sanguine Festival for a few years before, and the town approached us and asked if we would be interested in trying to create a bigger event, on five days. And they’ve been fabulous in their support.
âAnd the connection with the city has been brilliant. Of course, everyone is enjoying it – there are hotels, restaurants, stores, and boutiques – and everyone is really excited for every iteration now. “
âBendigo is such an amazing place, with these fabulous places. We’ve selected the sites to be all within walking distance, so you can get from one to the other fairly easily. And especially our interstate visitors, so that they get a feel for Bendigo rather than another place. “
“And because the festival is so concentrated in a small area of ââtown, there are all these teal thongs walking around, so we have conversations with the audience all the time – and that’s exactly what we want.” . Everyone is involved, and everyone is getting excited about something, or talking about something they just heard. It’s just awesome.
Howlett and Penny have also worked hard to engage with the local community, to make the festival something that establishes strong roots in the city, rather than just blowing away every year. Each year, they organize a community concert with the Bendigo Chamber Choir and Bendigo Symphony at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. And their connection continues long after the circus leaves town.
âWe also run festival artist masterclasses for local musicians,â says Penny. “And then of course – we got snooked last year, we just couldn’t do it because of COVID – but in our freshman year we had about 40 forays into schools in the greater Montreal area.” Bendigo during the year. And this is where Chris was phenomenal, he did a lot of research and specifically targeted schools that don’t have a music program, as well as those in less advantaged socio-economic areas. So we’re really trying to do something that matters.
“We want to contribute to Bendigo as much as we want to benefit from Bendigo.”
Tickets for the 2022 Bendigo Chamber Music Festival are on sale now. Visit the site or call (03) 5434 6100.