We’ve made it to Townsville, in the dry tropics of Queensland, and now it’s the morning after the night before...and that was the night after the day after the journey before. We left London with two big suitcases on Tuesday night, spent a pleasant few hours in Hong Kong airport and arrived in Sydney on Thursday morning...with one big suitcase. Sole free day in Sydney was supposed to be spent happily reuniting at leisure with my aunt, whom I hadn’t seen for 15 years, but this turned into a hasty and frazzled coffee in between frantic calls to the airport where we’d shunted from office to office for about three hours upon arrival. The case arrived 24 hours after we did and has joined us here. At least it wasn’t the one that contained my Anna Magdalena costume.
All in all, I can think of worse places to hold a chamber music festival. We’re staying - along with all the festival artists - in an apartment hotel near the marina; the sun is pouring into our new home-from-home across the cluster of lilttle boats this morning, the Strand beside the sea awaits exploration, as do its gelatarias, there’s a massive seafood bar across the road and yesterday’s opening concert was a heap of musical joys.
It was full of fresh, startling ideas, juxtapositions and collaborations, with Tine Thing Helseth and Katya Apekisheva shining amid an all-star line-up for the Saint-Saens Septet, eight cellists plus wonderful Siobhan Stagg in the Villa Lobossome amazing new timbres from marimba, sheng and bandoneon in world premieres by JP Jofre and Paul Stanhope, and a completely barnstorming performance of the Chausson Concert by Kathy Stott, Alexander Sitkovetsky and the Goldner String Quartet. The big concerts take place in the Townsville Civic Theatre, a sizeable modern hall from which last night’s concert went out live on the radio - splendidly hosted by Mairi Nicolson, whose interviews with the musicians while the stage set-up changed were fun, interesting and sympathetic.
Backstage, of course, it’s hard not to think “YIKES, I have to do the Bach show HERE?”, given the impressive scale of the whole thing - but with a chance to catch up with old friends like Kathy, Katya and Guy Johnston and to meet new ones over artist drinks-and-eats post-concert, the nerves quickly dispel. For performers in festivals like this, the treat is exactly that: to work with colleagues you’re meeting for the first time, forge new connections, spark ideas into being, and while away the post-concert wind-down over Australian beer or wine in which jet-lag becomes but a memory and lost suitcases all part of life’s rich pattern. I’ve now met many of my Bach show colleagues, Roddy Williams, Siobhan Stagg, Pavel Fischer, Kees Boersma and the Goldner String Quartet, among others. And out front in the audience, one can’t help noticing the way that people are running into one another as festival regulars over years and years, catching up in (where else) the queue for the ladies’ loos (“How are you? We met four years ago right here!”) and, better still, over ice-cream in front of the theatre, under the full moon.
A last thought for the morning: this is winter. It’s 28 degrees and there is simply no sunlight in the world quite like this. It’s going to be one amazing week.
Update: I think I’ve worked out how to bring the photos in from Instagram, but please visit my instagram account to see some more.