Review: AFCM Queens Gardens Concert on 29th July 2018

Once again Townsvillians and their visitors from all over the world gathered under the figs, milky pines and tamarinds for a concert in Queens Gardens to participate in and listen to some enjoyable music written over the centuries. This concert, in its fourth year, is arranged by the Australian Festival of Chamber Music and featured the Townsville Guitar Orchestra, Barrier Reef Orchestra, 1RAR Band and international guest soloists.

If you pedantically wonder what an Orchestra is doing in a Chamber Music Festival just rationalise that a orchestra and a audience of 5000 is a proportionally chamber like situation in the great outdoors as Damien Beaumont (ABC) once said.

The concert literally started with a fanfare with Australia’s very own fanfare trumpets played by Townsville’s very own 1RAR Band playing a fanfare written by Townsville’s very own resident Major Matt Chilmaid. A fantastic start equalled by the rest of the program.

The concert was hosted by ABC Presenter Mairi Nicolson who was very polished and obviously did her homework. She interviewed the soloists and leaders and gave us great insight into the musicians and music.

The Townsville Guitar Orchestra was lead by Guitar Supremo Karin Schaupp in the first item of a well put together program. They played arrangements by Richard Charlton of the Cavatina theme from the Deer Hunter and the Gypsy piece Moorea.

The Barrier Reef Orchestra then paid tribute to our wonderful Queens Gardens venue with a stirring rendition of the Crown Imperial March (by William Walton) followed by another nod to music royals – Beatles songs played in the style of Tchaikovsky.

The Orchestra was then joined by Norwegian Trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth who almost makes the trumpet sound not like a trumpet. They gave us a lyrical and rather soulful rendition of Edvard Grieg’s The Last Spring (op 34 No. 2 arr. Jarle Storiøkken) and Les Filles de Cadiz by Leo Delbes.

Just to enhance the variety the Orchestra then switched to African/American Spirituals and accompanied British Baritone Roderick Williams in his own arrangements of Joshua fit de battle of Jerico and Ol man River (from Showboat). The Orchestra’s percussion section debuted its latest instrument – two pieces of sandpaper (what grade, whether wet or dry I couldn’t tell). These two items were for me the highlight of a concert full of highs, Roddy Williams voice is well suited to the lows of spirituals and the Orchestra sounded great.

A total change of beat, sound and temperament then took over with the 1RAR Band on stage. Jupiter from The Planets Orchestral Suite by Gustav Holst was given the 1RAR big band treatment which really swung. I felt the same treatment given Dave Bruebeck’s Blue Rondo á la Turk was unsuccessful as the original rendition is rather whimsical and light. Corporal Debora O’Toole joined the Band and sang two pieces.

Then of course the grand traditional finale – the piece everyone was waiting for (the wait was very pleasant though) – Townsville’s very own arrangement of the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky. Paper bags were waiting to be fired and keys were at the ready to ring in the celebrations of yet another great AFCM free concert. The cannon fire was ably led by Sgt. Dave Shuttleworth who increased the cannon fire back to Tchaikovsky’s original 18 shots from the modest Townsville 12 in previous battles. This needed a little bit more practice and instruction to the artillery detachment as it
seemed the cannons dwindled at the end (maybe it was the stray shots which also contributed to the loss of fire power at the end). With a bit a practice I’m sure Sgt. Dave will be promoted to Major-General of 19th century cannon fire within music.

All-in-all it was a fantastically well executed concert – something not easy to do in a temporary outdoor venue. The sound balance was right, the spoken voice was clear and the program just right.

That so many people return each year for the AFCM Queens Gardens Concert shows that many more agree with me.