It is no small achievement for Festival Directors to not only engage a diverse range of Australia’s finest classical musicians, but to link them musically with performance enhancing venues and concert platforms, adding a fourth dimension to the audience’s experience. Diverse music events at the Peninsula Hot Springs, a highly popular summer holiday venue, has brought fine music to a highly appreciative audience, with both ticket holders and a large but motley collection of bathers and bodies, delighted with such new experiences.
How delicious it was to be in a sensuous and inspiring natural environment with perfect weather for the Festival opener – Sounds at Sunrise – at 7am on January 1st, surprisingly very well attended by the early birds. Located at the highest hot water mineral pool, with a panoramic view to match the beauty of the music, Festival directors Melissa Doecke (flute) and Ben Opie (oboe) added a meaningful musical aura with perfectly executed solos and duets, gentle Baroque airs and fancies and, most significantly, pieces by Australian composer Ross Edwards. Here in the Peninsula Hot Springs’ natural environment, Edwards’ music was well chosen – so connected with the musical healing of mind and body and the inspiration of birdsong and cultural diversity. The final piece, ideally selected and colourfully ambient, was Chirrup – a birdsong for the new year – from Edwards’ 2006 collection – Mystic Spring (pun intended no doubt), 9 Songs and Dances for treble woodwind. In the early morning calm with occasional cool sea breezes, listeners and bathers were entranced, and applauded the opportunity to hear the timbres of solo woodwind instruments up close and at their best: the freshness, spirit and sunshine of the flute and the earthiness, richness and strength of the oboe.
From Sweden, International trio Northern Resonance performed at the Springs’ excellent design and acoustic space known as The Amphitheatre, where several terraced bathing pools were spread in the round, bringing a highly fascinated human and feathered audience. Described as “being a blend of Swedish folk on baroque instruments”, there was a magnetic air of fascination as everyone wanted to see and hear the rare traditional Swedish instruments – the Nickelharp violin and Hardinger fiddle, with classical violin and viol d’amore. The trio members spoke congenially to the audience, proudly introducing the instruments and noting the UNESCO declaration of the Hardinger fiddle with its four “normal” violin strings and 12 sympathetic strings as having Heritage Significance. Our musical understanding and enjoyment of the healing connection associated with sound frequencies, drones, tonal colours and the timelessness of gentle Celtic influences, was an absolute given. Traditional folk melodies were woven gently across hypnotising resonant lower strings, and the group’s original music followed the ancient colours of openly spaced harmonies and smooth Celtic rhythms, all beautifully blended and balanced. Quite entranced, nobody wanted to leave their positions in pools, lawns, bush settings or walled terraces at this special performance with its timeless musical appeal.
The landscaping around the Amphitheatre’s stage took our imagination to a natural Australian desert centre, far from city life, with a beautiful reedy watercourse, ponds and bird-life in the foreground, and a sandy shore extending from the raised performing stage area. How perfect a setting for six dancers from Sydney’s First Nations Burrundi Theatre Group to share their stories in a most welcoming and enhancing environment. Connecting elements came from a strong, versatile and creative instrumental team comprising Festival Artist harpist Emily Granger and Uncle Michael Lyons on didgeridoo, with Ben Opie (oboe) and Melissa Doecke (flute) adding changing combinations of instrumental colours in thoughtful orchestral interludes. Flute and harp pairings were heavenly, and with a pitch perfect oboe adding earthy lines, the addition of didgeridoo to Baroque music was given a very new realisation. It was a joy to feel the communication in the flow and connection of timeless stories in dance and new musical interpretation, and a wonderful initiative by the Peninsula Festival directors to collaborate with the Willum Warrain community at their Gathering Place in Hastings on the Peninsula for an additional performance in their schedule of Community events.
Relaxing, re-vitalising, the listeners were greedy and could have listened to more, more, more of these fine performances.
Julie McErlain reviewed Sounds at Sunrise; Northern Resonance; and Burrundi Dancers with Emily Granger, Ben Opie and Melissa Doecke, presented as part of the Peninsula Summer Music Festival at Peninsula Hot Springs on January 1 – 5, 2024