2013 Music by the Sea Festival at Sandgate

January 18, 2013 - 10:52 am 2 Comments

Music by the Sea Festival 2013 at Sandgate.

There has been something of a transformation in Sandgate from the sleepy little Brisbane bayside suburb with the summer breezes, to that of an entirely thrilling venue for music of international standard.

The brainchild of Mr Zoli Mauritz, Music by the Sea started some years ago and has gathered  momentum by the  extraordinary talent it has consistently presented over the years, to become an important  place on the musical map for seriously good—even great—music. Sunday, 13th January was an example.The final item on the program was a selection of the contemporary work of Elena Kats-Chernin, who has garnered worldwide recognition and respect for her compositions. The composer herself appeared on the stage of the Sandgate Townhall with one of the world’s finest pianists, Tamara Anna Cislowska. Not only was this ensuing musical feast mindblowing, it was very enthusiastically received by the audience, many of whom had savoured something of Kats-Chernin’s music last September, at that time played by the redoubtable Acacia Quartet. Before the composer appeared on stage, the excitement in Sandgate’s recently refurbished, airconditioned hall was palpable,and after it, Sandgate seemed that little bit more sophisticated for having hosted such a remarkable event.

One of the unique charms of the Sandgate venue is the fact that unlike concerts presented by the big-city theatre organisers like QPAC, the audience and the artists mingle. In one of the breaks between performances, I was chatting to a rather beautiful young Hungarian woman about how the Kodaly method is taught in some (but sadly not all) Australian schools from Grade One. She apologised for her poor English. I hastened to tell her that her English is not at all poor, but in fact beautifully enunciated and quite charming. She said she had only been learning English for a year and apologised again. Then, an hour or so later, this same young woman, apppeared on stage, transformed into the glamorous Judit Molnar, looking a little like a mermaid in her long golden dress, to sing some liede of Franz Schubert. Her voice is pure, beautifully modulated and powerful. Her highest notes are as good as the best I’ve heard, and rather better than most. Her Ave Maria allowed us to soar to Heaven with her. You’ll have to ask Zoli for her to come back to Sandgate to appear in another of his concerts if you were one of the unfortunates who missed out on hearing her this weekend, or even if, like me, you’ve possibly become addicted to the proposition of hearing her again. Look her up on her website (Judit Molnar soprano) and hear her sing Lehar’s “Velia, the Witch of the Woods,” and tell me that she isn’t magnificent.

Judit’s transcendant perfomance was interrupted by a lengthy explanation of Franz Schubert’s Trout Quintet by Spiros Rantos, who then led the Brisbane Chamber Orchestra in  its performance. The lengthy verbal explanation  was unnecessary, (and a little hard to follow) as this music has always explained itself, consistently appearing at the top of the Favourite Music polls put together by ABC radio and probably known quite well even by the people who live in Sandgate. The reading of the poem by the gentleman from 4MBS was also unnecessary, and it did not do justice to the text. But as to the musical performance, this was fine. I should mention here the excellent Brachi Tilles, who played piano in the BCO, and also accompanied Judit.

Now, at the risk of sounding like one of those low-budget television ads: “Look, there’s more!” I want to tell you about Joe Chindamo and Zoe Black. Joe’s piano-playing  is no stranger to the Sandgate concert series but he has recently teamed up with violinist Zoe. They had the temerity to play music by composers we consider to be Old Masters, where Joe had altered actually some of the rhythms, written in extra treble lines, turning little piano pieces into contemporary dances, and so on.  I loved every note of it. Admittedly I initially thought that the treatment of the melody I recognised as “Nessun Dorma” was rather dark. Then I  recalled the story of Turandot, the opera from which the song comes, and reconsidered. Turandot is the bloody-minded Princess who  puts all but one of her suitors—the Prince of Persia—to death, like an over-zealous spider. Pretty heavy stuff. (So “None Shall Sleep” is not just an inspirational love song, there is also an implied threat in there: “None shall sleep . . . or else!”) The second piece that Joe and Zoe played—the  gloriously raunchy tango—was based on a Chopin Prelude, which I didn’t, at first, recognise. Later Zoe’s playing of a breathless couple of movements from Scarlatti sonatas, with complete equanimity, was a marvel, thrilling the audience. The duo’s version of a well-known Air by Handel, had Belinda,  the woman beside me, and myself, in tears, simply because it was so beautiful. I am sure George Frederick would have been quite mollified by this loving treatment of one of his very popular works.

Tamara Anna Cislowska, who was originally taught by her mother, played  music by the virtuosic player and compser, Franz Liszt. As I said, Tamara, has to be one of the most talented pianists in the world, and yet she has a friendly, gracious manner on stage,  seamlessly weaving little stories about the music around her performances. Did you know, for instance, that before pianos had metal frames, some of them could not physically stand the treatment meted out to them by Liszt’s music? The master himself despatched a number of the instruments through his passionate belabouring of the keyboard. This, of course, only made Listz’s celebrity all the greater. He was one of the “bad boys” of classical music long before certain rock bands destroyed perfectly good guitars on stage. Notorious for his many affairs with beautiful woman, as well as for the intense romanticism of his music, he quite frequently made the ladies swoon and have to be revived with smelling salts when he appeared in the concert hall.

This brings me to the first performance on Sunday, by another Hungarian, organist Gregory Hartay-Szabo.  Budapest born, he was a resident of Sandgate for some 10 years before moving on to another part of our city, about three years ago. His performance was a blending of the past with present technological advances, as he reproduced the sounds of famous pipe organs from seven cathedrals worldwide. At each cathedral he played a piece by J.S. Bach and explained some of the history and distinguishing features of the instrument. Projected on a screen on the stage was a photograph of the organ at Salisbury Cathedral. Zoli is particularly excited about Greg’s work for it is the first performance of its kind anywhere in the world. Those of you who were there, remember that you heard it first at Sandgate.

Shall I tell you now about Saturday’s fare? Well, all right, since you’re twisting my arm. . .

The day started with Vishten, a folk group from Canada. Comprising three players,  Emmanuelle and Pastelle LeBlanc as well as Pascal Mousse, Vishten played Arcadian music from Canada, making the distinction between Arcadian and Cajun communities which were displaced from Canada and made their way south to Louisianna and New Orleans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The girls in the group also explained and demonstrated fascinating foot percussive techniques used by both ethnic communities.

Gregory Page, an American singer/songwriter appeared next. His work ranges from songs straight from the heart to inspiring Woody Guthriesque calls to join the union. His appearance in Sandgate is part of his ninth tour of Australia, which he seems to prefer to the country he calls home—especially when it comes to performing. A true professional, he entertained us with his patter almost as much as his singing, which was very pleasing.

While the temperature outside the Town hall soared into what my friend Morag calls “dragon’s breath,” three of the coolest dudes in town took to the stage. This was Trichotomy, a Brisbane Jazz Trio, which features pianist Sean  Foran, double bassist Patrick Marchisella, and percussionist John Parker. This music is so contemporary, one might be tempted to call it Postmodern, but it is really too unique for such a title, and not to be categorised so glibly. A laid-back delivery of consummate musicianship provided a respite from the torrid, heavy-handed weather. Their effect was like the slaking of the parched throat of someone who has just survived a desert crossing. Trichotomy is touring Great Britain soon. It deserves to be loved and lauded.

The Painted Feet Orchestra led by Imogen Gilfedder-Cooney was at times a kind of musical burlesque and always pleasing to the audience. Featuring classical, folk, rock and traditional Indigenous styles, it explored the theme of Conflict against a background of still photography and video film. Though most of the orchestra are students of the Brisbane Conservatorium, they produced a sophisticated performance to which was added the powerful voice and musical talent of Imogen’s dad, Eugene, a popular Brisbane actor. It was all good fun.

Tinpan Orange was the last act on Saturday. Described as a roots/indie band from Melbourne, it featured Emily Lubitz whose folk-singer style was enhanced by a chatty,  intimate connection with the audience. Emily told some tales and performed music which was mostly written by Emily—and very pleasing it was, too. Despite the heat, she managed to lure audience members  from their seats to jive about on the floor just under the stage, with her. A mighty fine time was had by all.

Even better than last year’s excellent offering, the 2013 Music by the Sea Festival ranged from the delightful to the spectacular. People who attended are already wondering: What on earth is Zoli going to do next year?

2 Responses to “2013 Music by the Sea Festival at Sandgate”

  1. Greg Hartay-Szabo Says:

    Dear Cheryl,

    Many thanks for this great review. Just a little correction, if I may, for my part: the displayed instrument on the screen throughout the recital was the Esztergom Basilica in Hungary, not Salisbury Cathedral (the first instrument sounded in the programme, but not displayed visually). The featured instrument on the screen was demonstrated about halfway through, in (a very reverberant!) Passacaglia in c minor.

    Best wishes and thanks again,
    Greg Hartay-Szabo

  2. cheryl Says:

    Thank you so much for correcting me, Gregory, and humble apologies for getting the detail about the instrument on the screen wrong.

    The fact that the organ displayed was from Hungary underlines for me the fact that so much of the extraordinary talent we had the privilege of hearing and seeing during the Festival weekend was from Hungary. I mentioned to Zoli (who is also from Hungary, I believe) that Hungarian musicians pretty much dominated the festival. He said it wasn’t intentional — but who cares if it was, with that calibre of musician offering their talents. It was a memorable weekend. Thank you so much for your part in it. Please keep us informed of your future concerts. You excited a lot of interest at Sandgate.

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