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The Creative Issue – News for Creatives | March 3, 2021

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Festival Prelude: Australian Festival of Chamber Music Goes Digital

Festival Prelude: Australian Festival of Chamber Music Goes Digital
Claire Matthews

The Australian Festival of Chamber Music has announced a three-day online festival, Festival Prelude, from 7-9 August, to keep the chamber music flowing.

Featuring live-streamed concerts and digital content, Festival Prelude will be delivered through a partnership with Melbourne Digital Concert Hall.

Artists performing include violinist Jack Liebeck, baritone Roderick Williams, clarinettist Lloyd Van’t Hoff, pianist Kristian ChongEnsemble Liaison, and Nexas Quartet.

Festival Prelude was curated to fill the gap until AFCM’s next festival, after it was postponed and rescheduled for 2021 due to COVID-19.

The 2020 festival was to celebrate their 30th anniversary and to be the final under the artistic direction of acclaimed British pianist Kathryn Stott.

We spoke to artistic director Kathryn Stott on the upcoming Festival Prelude.

The Creative Issue: How did the idea of presenting a three-day digital festival come about?

Kathryn Stott: When the festival was postponed in April, we thought about how long it would be until the next festival, in July 2021. It seemed an awful long time to have absolutely no engagement with our audience. The Australian Festival of Chamber Music is a huge event, we have about 30 concerts, and 46 artists coming. So, it was a huge hole in the music calendar. When we all got over the initial shock of the situation we all found ourselves in, we asked what we could do to keep in touch with our patrons. We have so many loyal people that come from all over Australia and have been coming for years, and we didn’t really want to lose contact with everyone. This doesn’t replace the usual big festival, but it is a way to engage and stay connected with our AFCM family. It’s bringing everybody together.

Kathryn Stott

TCI: What is it like to curate, direct and present an online festival?

KS: It’s completely different! You have to think about how it is actually going to go online. How are we going to get the content to be there. Normally, we have three concerts a day for our festival. We can’t provide that amount of live or recorded performances online. Remember, a lot of us are still under lockdown restrictions, myself included. So, we’re putting things together under extreme personal situations. We asked how we can bring some live music. I think that is what everyone is missing. Although there is lots of online content, with people doing things from home, and in certain countries things have restarted, it’s not live.

So, the most obvious choice for this was to go to Melbourne Digital Concert Hall. They are well up and running, and proving very successful. One of the first things the we decided as a team, was to see if we can partner with them. We had to think about who could actually perform. So, who was where, who could rehearse with whom, these kinds of logistics. The MDCH is primarily in Melbourne, so we looked for our Melbourne artists. Sydney opened up, and it became possible to have concerts coming from Sydney. This is a way to showcase festival artists who will be performing next year and also, to help bring them some income. Then, we asked, how can we fill in the days, so we’ve got Q&As, interviews, quizzes. So, it’s a way to bring people together with fun moments, light-hearted aspects, and serious music.

TCI: What is it like to partner with Melbourne Digital Concert Hall?

KS: It’s quite straight-forward. They know exactly what they’re doing. It’s wonderful for us to have that opportunity to work with them. It would have been a huge challenge otherwise. They’ve got everything set up. They’re approaching a hundred performances by now. This is an organisation that has really got this off the ground, and so it was natural progression for us to go to them and say can we partner with you, in something that they’re already doing.

TCI: How excited are you to provide employment to artists during this time?

KS: Extremely! I’ve had six months of my own concert diary just disappear. That’s happened for musicians all across the world, and Australian musicians are no different. I think it’s been underestimated what it’s like. Not everybody has teaching jobs to provide a safety net, sometimes there is nothing. In this kind of situation, literally, the floor just disappears out from under you, it’s pretty frightening. So for Festival Prelude the more tickets people buy, the more income our artists will receive. Almost all of the money from the ticket sales goes to the artist, the rest is just for administration. You can’t underestimate the impact for the artists. The other incentive for them, is that they’re all really dying to give a live performance.

Nexas Quartet

TCI: Tell us some highlights of the program?

KS: I think the highlights really are the main concerts each evening. We have some fun moments too. I think all musicians love food. One of the big things of coming to the festival is when is our next dinner, how can we eat in between rehearsals. I think we tend to be foodie people. So Festival Friends will be talking about their favourite dinner party, things like that. If you want to test your musical knowledge, I think the Chamber Music Challenge might be good fun. I was quite keen to include Musical Memories. So, you know when you first hear a piece of music, and that moment stays with you forever. It may be the piece that makes you explore classical music. So, there’ll be interviews and more.

I think during this pandemic, time has done a very strange thing and people sometimes don’t quite know which day its is. What I felt was quite important was that there was a bit of a schedule for Festival Prelude. So, from 9 in the morning, you can tune in, and then you know there’s something else at 11, 12, and so on. So, building up to the performance in the evening. It’s also a way to know that you AFCM family might also be all tuning in together. That’s the fun part about festivals, that community spirit.

In essence, it’s not an easy time to put on anything at all. So I think what we’ve managed to do, and in quite a short time, I think it looks really different. I’m really happy that there’s not just this big hole. It doesn’t replace what we do. What we do is grand, very full on, music from morning to night. You can’t possibly replace that, but this is a way to bring us all together.

Ensemble Liaison

Tickets for Festival Prelude are on sale now, don’t miss out on your fill of chamber music. View the full program here.

The Details:
What: Festival Prelude Australian Festival of Chamber Music Digital Event
When: 7-9 August, Online
Tickets: $20, with $4 admin, 3-day passes available. All ticket income goes directly back to the artists. Book here.

Images supplied.