The pic above is from our first rehearsal today for Being Mrs Bach here in Townsville. I’m wielding my script at the side, offscreen, while some of our siezable team of musicians rehearse in the studio - pictured, baritone Roderick Williams, pianist Daniel de Borah, the young Stanley Street Quartet, who are studying at the festival Winterschool, and bassist Kees Boersma, getting to grips together with ‘Mache dich’ from the St Matthew Passion and ‘Hat man nicht mit seinen Kinder...’ from the Coffee Cantata.
The wonderful soprano Siobhan Stagg - who does actually look like Anna Magdalena - will be channelling our heroine’s spirit into ‘Bist du bei mir’, Daniel is playing the Minuet in G and the E flat Prelude and Fugue from Book 2, and somewhere in the room the Goldner Quartet were preparing to play the unfinished contrapunctus from The Art of Fugue. Completing the line-up, Guy Johnston will offer a movement from one of the cello suites.
I can hardly believe I’m working with this team of musicians. They’re simply the best in the world...and somehow I have to match up. Gulp.
The first two evening concerts have brought us some astounding performances - last night’s included Roddy and Daniel in the Vaughan Williams Songs of Travel and a roof-raising Tchaikovsky Souvenir de Florence with an all-star international line-up, to say nothing of a supremely talented young Australian violinist, Grace Clifford (she’s 20), playing Julian Yu’s Passacaglia after Biber so splendidly that I suspect a magnificent future for her.
Relaxed festival-goers who don’t need to rehearse, practise or write about things can enjoy musical events from morning til night most days at AFCM. In the mornings, Kathy Stott presents Concert Conversations, interviewing her artists, with performances by them to follow, a Winterschool lunchtime masterclass, a 5pm Sunset Series (in which Being Mrs Bach is included) and then more events in the evening. Tonight people are off to a Supper Club where they will be entertained with jazz, tango and Gershwin while munching. Some of us, though, are grabbing the opportunity to conquer the jet-lag, or try to, and cook ourselves some local fish.
The jet-lag is quite something. Jokes are zipping around the festival about how everyone is ‘drugged’ - on melatonin. I don’t know how we’d manage without it...but I made the mistake of taking a second one at about 3.30am and then slept through to 9.30am, when I had to write and file some copy by 10am. Tom kindly made the coffee while I jumped to it...
To be fair, it wasn’t only jet-lag. We’re having too much fun. After the concerts you go out, bump into people, eat gluten-free linguine with seafood or veggie burgers, sample the local produce (I have a none-too-secret passion for Ozzie wines) and before you know what’s happened, it’s midnight. Music festivals were ever thus, but this one is more than usually friendly - and exceptionally well set up by its devoted teams of volunteers, patrons and management, so everyone seems free to be in a singularly good mood. Long may that continue.
More pics at my Instagram account (jessica.duchen) and another update will follow tomorrow. For the time being, the Chadonnay beckons and the pan is waiting for me to pop in the barramundi...