Review – Queens Garden Concert 2017

Keeping up a Tradition – Australian Festival of Chamber Music Queens Gardens Concert

Does a concert in Queens Garden’s each year for three years constitute a tradition? Let’s hope so because we were treated to another high quality, varied and enjoyable concert organised by the AFCM this year at the end of July.  The consistent audience of thousands every year proves Townsville loves this concert opportunity.

The ‘sunrise’ fanfare composed by Richard Strauss in Also Spake Zarathustra was a marvellous start to the great music to follow.  This was used to great effect in the film 2001 and I’m sure many pictured that wonderful shot from space of the sun rising over the earth.  The enhancement of the Barrier Reef Orchestra with 1RAR Band made this all too short piece spine tingling.

What followed was a surprise when the Mayor of Townsville presented AFCM Artistic Director, Piers Lane with the Keys to the City.  This much deserved acknowledgement apparently arises from a quaint London custom of allowing recipients to take sheep across London Bridge.  What privilege accompanies Townsville’s keys?   Maybe 365 days of free sunscreen.

Then on with the music – the Orchestra gave a rousing rendition of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville Overture then ably accompanied British horn player Martin Owen in a popular movement from Mozart’s Horn Concerto.

A change of pace followed with Australia’s Grande Dame of the Harp, Alice Giles.  At first thought listening to a Harp in this outdoor setting could be potentially fraught but thanks to good sound engineering the three well-chosen pieces were very enjoyable.

The Orchestra returned to give us another rare treat.  Major Glen Rogers, Director of 1RAR Band conducted his own composition The Spirit of Nunawading which was based on his own childhood. Even though it was played in the totally opposite atmosphere of a tropical garden to that of Victoria it was very evocative and well received.

From Nunawading to Seville was a easy leap when a suitably strutting Peter Colman-Wright  sang a toast to the pleasures of being a Toreador (from Bizet’s Carmen) followed by the powerful voice of Cheryl Barker  explaining how Tosca lived for art (Vissi d’arte from Tosca).   Martin Owen showed his versatility by conducting the Orchestra accompanying the singers.  The couple returned to the stage later with a great rendition of Mack the Knife, this time with 1RAR accompanying.

Next we were given something completely different – the saxophone quartet Nexas conveyed the exhilaration of cycle riding and racing.  Written for the quartet by Mathew Orlovich Slipstream was very interesting and I would love to hear it again.  Nexas Quartet then accompanied Peter Coleman-Wright on Ballade of a Pleasant Life from The Threepenny Opera by Kurt Weill.  This song is the title track from their CD and it was very apparent they worked well together.

The Band of the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment or 1RAR as it is commonly known gave us 20 minutes of pure swing.  The Band is always highly professional and Townsville is lucky to have it as residents.

Then the traditional finale – the 1812 Overture which unfortunately became the 906 Overture as time had gone on and people were needing to leave so the preliminary build up and tension of the overture was skipped for the full blown battle and triumph.  And people were ready – keys were out without being told, cannon bags were ready for the general’s signal and Napoleon was defeated yet again (probably helps that we are a ‘garrison town’).  It was a pity this had to be cut as the spirit is willing to listen but other things like schedules and uncomfortable sitting for a long time dampen such a spirit.  Let’s hope we can do it all again next year.

Lorraine Gray-McConnell