Bright Young Strings

Three generations of the War Family will take part in this year's Australian Festival Chamber Music, including ' Ahoy! Sing for the Mary Rose' IMAGE: Sarah Joy Photography

Ludwig van Beethoven. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. George Frederic Handel.

A quick Google of any of these composers will return many a portrait of men crowned in wonderfully-manicured grey wigs – a staple of their time serving to prolong the stereotype that chamber music should be reserved for elevators or the soundtrack for a movie where Sandra Bullock floats silently in space for half an hour. Slow. Outdated. And for dusty old people.

Despite being one of the most diverse styles of music in the world, limited only by the size of the ensemble (traditionally having to fit in a palace chamber), many overlook chamber music performances in favour of modern incarnations. But the Australian Festival of Chamber Music (AFCM), returning to Townsville for its 28th year in 2018, will prove that chamber music can be so much more.

The 2018 Festival will continue its tradition of delivering chamber music in non-traditional settings – Queens Gardens, The Heritage Hotel and The Pavilion included – and with some past musicians making their return to the event, this year’s Festival will welcome its youngest featured musician ever: 19-year-old violinist Grace Clifford.

“I feel very lucky and grateful to be able to take part in the Festival, and very motivated to try as best I can to live up to a standard of music-making AFCM has long embodied,” Grace said. “As a younger aspiring musician, the opportunities and experiences AFCM offers are invaluable.

“Chamber music is completely ageless; for me, it’s the essence of what music is and what it is capable of. The potential for honest and deeply personal communication in chamber music is unlike any other experience: the several layers of communication – between composer and their composition, composition and musicians, musicians and musicians, and musicians and audience – and the transparency and intimacy a small chamber ensemble allows can be meaningful for everyone.”

Grace Clifford
Violinist Grace Cliffordwill be the youngest ever feature musician at AFCM IMAGE: Anthony Browell

While Grace will be the youngest professional musician at this year’s Festival, many younger aspiring artists will showcase their skills at various performances such as the highly-anticipated Families Concert.

The Families Concert, which has become a core event of AFCM since its introduction in 2013, will evolve this year to not only feature a chorus of children, but parents and – in the case of Townsville’s Ward family – grandparents as well.

Three generations of the Ward family will perform in the 2018 Families Concert Ahoy! Sing for the Mary Rose: children Judah and Mikiele, father Lindsay, and grandparents Geoff and Cherry.

“The Mary Rose was King Henry VIII’s ship and it sailed around for a long time fighting the French – it went missing and people searched for it for years … before finally found sunk in the Solent Sea – so it was put on display at Portsmouth, close to where it was discovered,” Cherry said.

“Sing for the Mary Rose was written for a particular festival in Portsmouth but it has evolved since then with some new shanties to be included in our show. Rehearsals have certainly been interesting – I sang at Auckland Girls Grammar when I was 14, and that was the last time I was in a choir!”

“We became involved in the Families Concert particularly because of the kids,” Geoff said. “This is the first time we’ve performed with Judah and Mikiele, apart from singing at home or in the car, so it’s really exciting. When you look at the benefits of extended family and the whole idea of sharing something for a common purpose that goes beyond the normal family construct – music is such a powerful thing so to have it as part of our lives, inspiring these talented kids, is amazing.”

While the children only joined Amadeus Singers in 2015, Geoff’s connection to the Festival began much earlier.

“I was just down the corridor from Theodore ‘Ted’ Kuchar when he co-founded the Festival of Chamber Music. Ted was a music lecturer at the university and when he used to ‘invite friends over to play,’ they’d be these renowned international chamber musicians – so it was natural for this Festival to emerge from that.

“Ted went from here to the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, but the fact Townsville has kept the Festival is tremendous – when the rest of the country realised how popular it was and how many extremely talented international musicians were prepared to come and play, there were places like Sydney and Melbourne trying to lure them away with more money and potential. But to Townsville’s credit, we’ve kept it going all these years; it’s been so well supported and is here to stay.”

Cultural opportunities for locals expand every year: this year’s AFCM invited local school students to compose original works, with one selected to be performed at the Festival.
Townsville Grammar School year 8 student Brandon Lindsay wrote the successful sea shanty, which will be performed as part of the Families Concert.

“I couldn’t believe it when I was told my piece had been selected – I’d never written music before so to have this picked to feature is really exciting,” Brandon said.

“This was part of a composition project with Portsmouth Grammar School in the UK – both our schools wrote sea shanties influenced by the sinking of the Mary Rose and, locally, the Pandora.”
From debut composers to professional violinists and the cutest singers you’ve ever seen, the 2018 Australian Festival of Chamber Music won’t just feature a variety of ages – but will appeal to young and old as well.

Brandon Lindsay. Judah and Mikiele Ward. Grace Clifford. Remember their names, because there is a chance they’ll be the musicians who change all preconceived notions of chamber music.

Catch the Australian Festival of Chamber Music at various locations across Townsville and Cape Cleveland from 27 July – 5 August. More information and tickets, visit afcm.com.au

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