2015 – Day Seven: Undone by a heart-rending melody

A fine day at the 2015 Adam Chamber Music Festival, our blogger ‘Tristan’ shares it all from engrossing discussions, to operas and many hands at not so many keyboards…

Wednesday 4 Feb – from ‘Tristan’ (written 5 Feb)

This morning’s conversation was with the conductor of one of the two main guest ensembles at this year’s festival: Roland Peelman of The Song Company, talking with Rolf Gjelsten. The exchanges seemed to be mutually stimulating and it became one of the most engrossing discussions in the series so far.

Roland Peelman, Artistic Director of Song Company

Roland Peelman, Artistic Director of Song Company

They covered Peelman’s childhood in an unmusical small Flemish town in Belgium, his fruitful years at a musically well-endowed secondary boarding school, a useless year at a conservatorium (was it Ghent?) and then to university where he wanted and got a broader education that included the arts generally, languages and history. His learning went on to Cologne, the base of the post-Darmstadt school led by Stockhausen, and it included the important (for Peelman) teaching of Alois Kontarsky (you may remember him from a chamber group at one of the very early New Zealand Festivals in Wellington in the late 1980s).

He had revelatory observations about the teaching of conducting, and the strange connections between the avant-garde movement and the explorers of early music, the music itself and its instruments and the way they were played; the one led to the other. 

Then came the unexpected move to Australia, an encounter with Aboriginal ‘dreaming’ music, working at the small South Australian town, Mount Gambier, and then his seminal appointment as assistant chorus master at the Australian Opera in 1982. Observations about the nature of opera and its typical audience, the hectic life in a big opera company, with its acquiring of numerous important skills; and then his appointment to the Song Company.

Song Comapny in Nelson for the 2015 Adam Chamber Music Festival.

Song Company in Nelson for the 2015 Adam Chamber Music Festival.

It turned out fine today. But it was necessary to remain indoors, in Old St Johns, for PianoFest IV, further adventures with several pianists at one or two pianos. This time OPERA. Again, there was some underlying feeling about the value of opera and its sociology, but the arrangements from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde (the Liebestod) and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (the Prelude), proved quite illuminating, almost clarifying their textures and contrapuntal lines. But the real revelation was the fantasia by Czerny, contemporary of Rossini and Schubert, drawing melodies from Bellini’s wonderful opera, Norma. The emotions remained alive and well, and the rhythmic pulse under the final heart-rending melody, rather undid me.

A somewhat enigmatic piece called Double F for Freddie, with an unexplained operatic connection, rightly described as a humorous romp, took the piano to its limits: viz. four at one keyboard – from top to bottom, Guerin, Watkins, Liu, with de Pledge offering, as far as I could see, just the final deep bass note at the end.

In rehearsal for PianoFest

In rehearsal for PianoFest

Finally an indescribable arrangement by Stephen de Pledge, a Carmen for the madhouse, involved all four pianists plus, in riotous disarray, disputing seats and positions, interjections from the Grieg concerto and Die Fledermaus, and finally someone arriving to toss the flower into the melee (it was Rae de Lisle) and then joining the crowd at the two keyboards. Because that looked unbalanced, De Pledge went searching for another, finally make forcible arrest of Kathy Stott, to join the chaos of six at two keyboards to deliver the coup de grace to Carmen, the opera.

The Troubadours backstage at the Adam Chamber Music Festival.

The Troubadours backstage at the Adam Chamber Music Festival.

The evening shifted the tone back to a more civilised and orderly level. First, at 6.30, a small recital by the Troubadours, a splendid little student quartet who played Mozart’s early Divertimento in D, K 136 and the old filmic hit, Over the Rainbow; but most interestingly, Beethoven’s own arrangement of his Piano Sonata in E, Op 14 No 1. It works beautifully as a string quartet (I somehow acquired a recording of it many years ago), and this performance was sensitive, lively, beautiful.

The big evening concert was entitled Stabat Mater, for the great Pergolesi cantata which filled the second half. Sung by two sopranos from The Song Company, Mina Kanaridis and Anna Fraser, it was accompanied by the Ying Quartet, minus Janet Ying, plus Donald Armstrong and Douglas Mews at the chamber organ.

It’s so famous and so well-loved, yet I haven’t heard it entire, live for a few years. This performance was truly beautiful. The voices expressed the overwrought religious grieving that lies at the heart of the medieval poem, with sobriety and restraint, as well as extraordinarily sensitive control of tempi and expressive gesture. Led by Ayano Ninomiya’s strong but scrupulously handled violin, the ensemble gave a performance that would have impressed the most discriminating audiences anywhere in the world.  

The earlier part comprised a lovely Song without Words for solo cello by Gillian Whitehead from Rolf Gjelsten. Donald Armstrong and Gillian Ansell played Lilburn’s entrancingly lyrical Three Canzonettas for violin and viola. Ayano Ninomiya delivered a Kreisler piece of high virtuosity and musical interest, breathtakingly.

Then the Song Company appeared to sing a 16th century (and so contemporary with Elizabethan England) Spanish (Catalan) ‘ensalada’, in five parts, or was it six?  Vividly Hispanic, it and its performance were a delight.

All this highly heterogeneous material made it one of the most unexpected and delightful programmes of the festival. 


A sample of the Song Company in rehearsal while at the Adam Chamber Music Festival (this piece was performed in an earlier recital)


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