BY FLORA WONG
From August 29, musicians from across the country gathered in the Adelaide Hills for UKARIA’s flagship weekend event, UKARIA 24. This year, Scottish classical accordion virtuoso James Crabb curated, leading an all-star line up of more than 30 musicians from across four concerts.
We bring you exclusive insights from young musicians performing at the festival, representing three of the major training pathways in Australia: the Australian Youth Orchestra (through Momentum Ensemble), the Australian National Academy of Music, and Musica Viva’s FutureMakers program.
This photoblog comes from Flora Wong, who was concertmaster in the Australian Youth Orchestra’s Momentum Ensemble for the weekend. CutCommon would like to give a special shout-out to our contributor Dylan Henderson, who took a few of these stunning pictures on behalf of UKARIA.
“Tell the story!”
These were words that the members of the Australian Youth Orchestra’s Momentum Ensemble heard time and time again in James Crabb’s charming Scottish lilt in the lead-up to our performances at UKARIA 24. It was a reminder to all of us that even in the practice room and rehearsal venue, our most important job as musicians was to connect with the audience. But nothing could prepare us for the incredible exchange that would take place between performers and audiences at UKARIA. It was an immensely moving experience that will remain with me for many years to come.
My very first program with the Australian Youth Orchestra was the National Music Camp in Adelaide in 2009, so when I was invited to take part in the Momentum Ensemble this year, it seemed very fitting that one of my final projects with the AYO should see me return to South Australia. I have a love of architecture that incorporates and features its surrounding natural environment, so I was thrilled to be performing in such a unique and beautiful space as UKARIA.
As I perused the program that we were to perform at the festival, I was a little surprised to see a Vivaldi concerto featuring violin, cello and accordion as the soloists. It was, of course, a great honour to be performing with James Crabb and Julian Smiles, but having specialised in Baroque music for some time, this seemed to be a very unusual concerto combination! However, all trepidation fell away when we began to rehearse the sublime slow movement – James’ accordion blended perfectly with the strings, with a timbre not unlike a small church organ, yet somehow more intimate and agile.
Arriving at UKARIA, I was truly lost for words – photos do not fully capture its marvellous form, nor the incredible sense of warmth that envelops you as you enter the building. From the intricately panelled ceiling to the glass walls behind the performance space that opened out onto the garden and views of the surrounding hills, every aspect of the building made me feel welcome and ready to fill the space with music.
We were truly spoilt at meal times (and in between!) with beautiful arrays of locally sourced and prepared food – the Portuguese custard tarts that appeared by the tea and coffee station one afternoon were unforgettable. It was also wonderful to be staying in the picturesque town of Hahndorf during our time at the festival – in fact, I had some friends travelling in Germany at the time and it helped to alleviate some of the European travel envy!
Sofia Gubaidulina’s Seven Words was by far the most riveting and challenging work on the program for me. The solo parts for cello and accordion are incredibly technically and emotionally taxing, and to observe James’ and Julian’s every movement during rehearsals and performances was a masterclass in itself. However, the string writing is also very exposed and requires faultless ensemble skills from every performer. This work pushed me to play and lead the ensemble in a way that was, by necessity, very clear and precise, but without detracting from the ethereal quality of the sound that we wanted to produce – not an easy task! We were lucky to have had the opportunity to perform the work twice in Brisbane and Sydney prior to the festival, as it allowed us to hone our focus during each performance.
By the time we presented Seven Words at the final UKARIA 24 concert, I finally felt that we knew the work to a degree that allowed us to fully convey its emotive power. The response from the audience was stronger than I’d ever experienced before – we emerged from the final fluttering sounds to see faces that were visibly shaken, moved, transformed – and it is without a doubt that such an experience could not have taken place in any other place and time.
It was an indescribably profound moment, and such a joy to have had the opportunity to tell our stories at UKARIA 24 – I am certain that musicians and audiences alike will continue to have similarly powerful experiences at UKARIA for years to come!
Did you read performer Lloyd Van’t Hoff’s UKARIA 24 blog? You might also like composer Rachel Bruerville’s review!