Music Australia News

Shifting online: Australian Festival of Chamber Music

Athenaeum Courtesy Kath Rose & Associates
Graham Strahle
| July 26, 2020

Australian Festival of Chamber Music (AFCM) breaks new ground this year by moving online. Naming itself AFCM Online Festival, its three-day program of live-streamed concerts and associated activity will take place on 7-9 August, allowing audiences to enjoy a special version of this long-established festival from the comfort of their homes.

Some of Australia’s finest classical musicians are participating. Clarinettist Lloyd Van’t Hoff and pianist Kristian Chong are playing Beethoven and Brahms for the first evening concert, while Ensemble Liaison presents works by Timothy Young (the group’s pianist), Brahms, Wilde and Frolov on day two. Sydney saxophone group Nexas Quartet perform Piazzolla, Gershwin and Debussy on the final night.

A range of varied offerings including behind-the-scenes chats and videos run throughout each day. Three matinee concerts are being presented by AFCM Artistic Director and distinguished UK pianist Kathryn Stott; joining her in these will be Jack Liebeck (violin) and Roderick Williams (baritone).

Organisers are working hard to make the atmosphere convivial and enjoyable. Wines are being made available to patrons in a pre-order arrangement so that they can toast in the evening. Concerts cost $24 and are ticketed by Melbourne Digital Concert Hall.

Stott became festival’s Artistic Director in 2018, succeeding Piers Lane. Before that she directed many music festivals and concert series in England. She spoke to Music Australia about how plans are going for AFCM Online Festival in August.

How is the event adapting to an online platform this year, and how will it happen?

“The idea of Festival Prelude was born out of the thought that it was an awful long time between the postponement of the festival and the new dates in July 2021. Obviously central to our festival are concerts – lots of them – with patrons able to enjoy an average of three a day over the 10 day festival period. So in putting together this event, of course being able to bring any live musical offerings was always going to be something we would pursue. By the time the idea of the Online Festival really started to take shape, Melbourne Digital Concert Hall was really up and running and proving a great success with music lovers unable to find any live concerts during lockdown restrictions. We had a number of musicians already booked to perform in the festival next year, so primarily wanted to showcase them, keep our audiences engaged and at the same time help provide income through the MDCH ticket sales. As everything is online and will be reaching out via social media, it’s very possible AFCM will attract new listeners or people wanting to engage in some of the more light hearted aspects of Festival Prelude.”

In creating this 2020 program, have you adapted ACMF as it has existed in past years, or is this a complete redesign of the Festival?

“I think it’s fair to say that Festival Prelude is a very far cry from the huge 10 day event which makes AFCM the largest chamber festival in Australia. With up to 30 concerts and events, 46 artists, the festival itself is really a very full on musical experience. So this is not meant to redesign or replicate as that would simply be impossible during these challenging times. AFCM thrives on interaction with musicians working together in different combinations, many collaborating for the very first time. We also thrive as a festival because of the interaction between patrons and the combined experience of these two elements, I feel is what makes any festival tick. This online festival, is a way to bridge the gap and provide some live music making (something many of us are badly missing!) interspersed with more light hearted moments.”

How you go about creating a sense of community involvement around an online festival?

“I think the foundation for this aspect is to build on our AFCM community. There is also a wonderful spirit between many of the artists who have performed in the festival over the years and musical memories made in Townsville. I’ve found during lockdown that it’s really helped me to tune into some concerts or events at the same time as other people. At extreme moments that has been comforting but in any circumstance, it gives the opportunity for conversation afterwards and I know how our audience enjoy exchanging their thoughts about performances and content. We have provided a Chamber Music Challenge so people can also get involved.”

Do you see this online version a wonderfully bold one-off, or is it perhaps the shape of things to come?

“I think around the world there are many online festivals coming up in the very near future as many promoters try to fill these awful voids. I personally hope it’s not the shape of things to come as I don’t feel you can replace the real thing but if it were a model for the future, one would only hope not to be in a pandemic and to open up recording possibilities to the wider world. Right now we are simply happy to be contributing an event in these extraordinary times.”

Details of AFCM Online Festival along with booking information can be found here. Purchasing a concert ticket gives one a link that allows patrons to view the concert over computer or other screen device.

Next year AFCM resumes its normal pattern and is scheduled for 23 July to 1 August.

Melbourne Digital Concert Hall runs a large number of online concerts from its website, and to date has engaged more than 200 musicians and raised $450,000. Virtually all of the ticket proceeds go back to the artists, other than a small margin that pays for a piano tuner, technician and transaction costs.

Both these ventures are wonderful bright spots in an otherwise embattled concert calendar while the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

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