Antique harp makes its Australian debut at the 2018 Festival

Celebrated harp soloist Alice Giles AM has received her antique 18th century harp just in time for its Australian debut at the Canberra International Music Festival. The harp was made in Paris by Godefroi Holzman around 1785. Decorated with ebonised lacquer and guilt Chinoiserie and a painted soundboard after the style of Watteau, it has been lovingly restored to perfect playing condition by the London based antique harp expert Michael Parfett.

The acclaimed musician is delighted with the instrument restoration. “The harp sounds so beautiful I just want to sit and play it all day,” says Alice Giles. “It was a risk because I bought it at online auction in the UK with only Michael’s evaluation of it in an unrestored condition. It’s rare to find such an even sounding fullness of tone - it surpasses reproduction instruments in this way as you can hear the maturity of the centuries.

“Basically the whole harp had to be taken apart: woodworm holes filled, soundboard re-set and the mechanism repaired. It has all been brought back into great shape. I didn’t want it re-gilded though, because I want to cherish its venerable age as a working instrument, not as an antique.”

 Seven Harp Ensemble

Seven Harp Ensemble

String players are used to the idea of playing on an instrument with history, but it is a special feeling for a harpist. The ‘touch’ is completely different from a modern harp as the tension is much looser. The tone is quite different also - clear and bell-like.

“In general the French harps from this period have a very particular sound quality, which I just really love,” enthuses Giles.

The instrument is typical of a kind of renaissance of harp making in Paris. As well as becoming the instrument of choice for elegant and educated young women, many accomplished harpists were developing a new technique at the instrument, writing methods and performing solo works. It is worth noting that Mozart wrote his flute and harp concerto in Paris at exactly this time.

The harp will see its Australian debut in an interlude as part of Handel’s ‘Saul’ during Concert 1: Opening Gala on Friday 27 April, 7:30pm in the Fitters’ Workshop.

Alice Giles will also be appearing with the Seven Harp Ensemble (SHE) as part of Concert 4: Four Seasons on Saturday 28 April, 8:00pm in the Fitters’ Workshop.

For more information, or to buy tickets, visit

It's not just a Festival, it's an Experience!

"This autumn, you'd be hard pressed to find a more cultural experience than the Canberra International Music Festival: ten days of bliss for the eyes, the ears… and tastebuds.  The Festival has it all: from medieval bards to baroque excellence, from classic refinement to contemporary discoveries, interspersed with gallery visits, forums, discussions and culinary tastings. Indeed, the mix of international guests with something to say, Australians at the top of their game, eager young musicians and senior artists with a lifetime of experience creates a heady brew.

"Music making may be the centrepiece of the Festival but the experience is all encompassing. Come see for yourself between 27 April - 6 May, the 24th Canberra International Music Festival."

Roland Peelman, Artistic Director

Discovery and re-discovery make the Festival experience so wonderful. So why not treat yourself and take in more than just one event at CIMF2018? Here are some recommendations to get you started:

If you like Israel in Egypt, you'll love Il Ritorno

Ulysses Now
Wednesday, 2 May at 6:30pm
Fitters' Workshop

One of the great pillars of Italian opera, Monteverdi’s Il ritorno is a study in humanity and compassion. Featuring Chloe Lankshear, soprano; Kate Howden, mezzo-soprano; Tobias Cole, countertenor; Dan Walker, tenor; Andrew Fysh, bass - along with an all star cast of Festival artists.

If you like The Trout, you'll love Classsic Souvenir

Classic Souvenir
Sunday, 29 April at 6:30pm
Fitters' Workshop

Beethoven's Sonata op. 96 is characteristic of his late style: ineffable beauty and restrained exaltation. Performed by Cecilia Bernardini and Keiko Shichijo, two of Europe’s most respected performers on historic instruments of the early 19th century.

If you liked Antiqua Forma, you'll love I Bassifondi

I Bassifondi
Saturday, 5 May at 11am
Fitters' Workshop

Led by Roman lute/theorbo player Simone Vallerotonda, I Bassifondi – freely translated as “the wrong side of the tracks” – have recently shot to fame with irreverent and catchy versions of guitar music from the 16th and 17th century.

For the full Festival line-up, visit

Building our team for the future

The Canberra International Music Festival is set to explore new directions with the award of an Australia Council for the Arts Professional Development Grant to its newly-appointed Program Manager Alex Raupach. Along with project funding from the Australia Council for the Arts for the 2018 Festival, the grant is testament to the Festival’s leadership position in the Australian music and cultural landscape. Against industry trends, Festival attendance has been growing year after year with the 2018 Festival, to be held 27 April – 6 May, anticipated to attract record interstate attendees to the nation’s capital.

Alex is well known to Canberran audiences for his commitment to the local jazz community. A graduate of ANU School of Music and prolific composer and musical collaborator, he has relocated from Melbourne to work as Program Manager for the 2018 Festival and to assist in planning for the Festival’s 25th anniversary in 2019, under the mentorship of Artistic Director Roland Peelman.

Rounding out the vibrant new team are Artist and Media Coordinator Lilly Hannock and Production Coordinator Isaac Dugdale. The diverse talents that young professionals like Alex, Lilly and Isaac bring to the organization is necessary for the Festival’s continued growth and future development, as it seeks to reach new audiences and test new program ideas.

Artistic Director Roland Peelman is delighted with the expansion of the Festival team:
"The new blood at Festival Headquarters reflects the new wind blowing through Canberra and optimism about the future of the arts in Canberra. If Alex, Lilly and Isaac are anything to go by, our Festival will be in good hands.  We are lucky to be able to draw on such a talented group of people and bring imaginative thinkers with a diverse range of experience and expertise into the festival fold. This is how we transform the Festival into a vehicle for the 21st century and centre of attraction for the nation.

"Alex isn't one to blow his own trumpet, but I very happy to do it for him, as well as for the bright young team at CIMF. Watch this space!"


FAQ: Benjamin Bagby's Beowulf

A double tour de force of scholarly excavation and artistic dynamism.
— San Francisco Chronicle

Arguably one of literature’s greatest epics, Beowulf – the story of King Hrothgar, the monster Grendel and the eponymous hero Beowulf - has been passed down in written form for hundreds of generations. As one of the world’s leading practitioners of historically informed music and theater, Benjamin Bagby has presented his acclaimed dramatization of Beowulf to sold out crowds all over the world, transporting audiences with this awe-inspiring poem, delivered in the original Old English and accompanied only by the Anglo-Saxon harp. On Saturday, 5 May, he is set to electrify the Fitters’ Workshop with his one-man tour de force.  Want to know more? In this FAQ, we explore Benjamin Bagby the musician and his unique Beowulf project.

Who is Benjamin Bagby?

Singer, harpist and scholar Benjamin Bagby is perhaps best known for his work with the ensemble for medieval music, Sequentia.  Co-founded together with the late Barbara Thornton in 1977, Sequentia was based in Cologne, Germany, for 25 years. Sole director since 1988, Bagby has created over 70 innovative concert programs of medieval music and music drama, giving performances in across Europe, North and South America, Africa, the Middle East, Japan, Korea, and Australia. Both Benjamin Bagby and Sequentia are now based in Paris and perform 15 to 30 concerts yearly, developing 1-2 new programs each year. Sequentia also have an extensive discography, including two CDs of musical reconstructions from the medieval Icelandic Edda. The ensemble’s most recent release forms the 9th and final installement of Sequentia's Hildegard von Bingen complete works project. In addition to his activities as singer, harpist and director of Sequentia, Benjamin Bagby writes about performance practice and teaches widely in Europe and North America. He is currently on the faculty of the Sorbonne University in Paris, where he teaches in the master’s program for medieval music performance practice.

Read more:

Who, or what, is Beowulf?

The opening page of the Beowulf epic

Beowulf is the hero of an Anglo-Saxon poem of the same name, which survives in a single manuscript dated to the early eleventh century. It is written in Old English, the language used in England roughly between the years 500 to 1100 AD. Beowulf explores timeless themes of individual glory; the anxiety of encountering the unknown, the different, the monstrous; and the troubling conflicts at the heart of a warrior culture.

What is so special about Benjamin Bagby’s Beowulf performance?

Beowulf is thought to be the oldest surviving long poem in Old English and is commonly cited as one of the most important works of medieval literature. The Anglo-Saxon literary tradition continues to capture the modern imagination, and like J.R.R. Tolkien, James Campbell and countless medieval literature students around the world, this heroic tale has held Benjamin Bagby in thrall since he was a young teenager in his native US. Since 1987, he has taken this fascination further, researching and reconstructing several medieval oral epics. He has performed in Old Icelandic, Old High German, and Anglo-Saxon, accompanying himself on a Anglo-Saxon harp. However, it is in his acclaimed bardic performance of Beowulf, created in 1990 and now with 10-20 performances yearly worldwide, that Bagby truly shines. His reconstruction (accompanied by modern English supertitles) has captivated sold-out crowds from Carnegie Hall to Munich to Bruges – even the Edinburg Festival – earning rave reviews in every locale. The New York Times writes: “Mr. Bagby comes as close to holding hundreds of people in a spell as ever a man has…that is much too rare an experience in theater.” Benjamin Bagby’s appearance at the Festival is an especially rare chance to encounter one of the most popular texts in western literature as it was originally performed.

Mr. Bagby comes as close to holding hundreds of people in a spell as ever a man has…that is much too rare an experience in theater.
— New York Times

What is an Anglo-Saxon harp?

 BEOWULF -  Benjamin Bagby

Eröffnungskonzert im Museum Tinguely
Basel, 30.11. 2011

am Internationalen Symposium
der Schola Cantorum Basiliensis
Basel, 18. November - 3. Dezember 2011

Paradigmen instrumental begleiteten Sologesangs
in Mittelalter und Barock

© Susanna Drescher 2011

The specially-built 6-string harp used in this performance was based on the remains of an instrument excavated from a 7th century Alemannic nobleman's grave in Oberflacht (south of Stuttgart). The remarkably intact pieces of oak clearly show a thin, hollow corpus with no soundholes. There are strong indications, supported by contemporary iconography, that such an instrument had six gut strings, a tailpiece and a free-standing bridge, the strings providing the ‘singer of tales’ with a series of six tones. Although several possible tunings present themselves, the tones used in this performance were arrived upon through a careful study of early medieval modal theory (a gapped octave which contains three perfect 5ths and two perfect 4ths). The result is a musical matrix, upon which the singer can weave both his own rhetorical shapes and the sophisticated metrics of the text. The harp is a relatively quiet instrument, but in the ear of the performer it rings with an endless variation of gestures, melodic cells and repetitive figurations which give inspiration to the shape of the vocalisation: in the course of the story the vocalist may move imperceptibly or radically between true speech, heightened speech, speechlike song, and true song.

Read more:

Still have questions? Check out these links for more information:

ARTICLE: Beowulf and the Performance of Medieval Epic, by Benjamin Bagby
INTERVIEW: Between Music and Story-telling, with Benjamin Bagby and Katarina Šter
REVIEW: Beowulf, sung and recited by Benjamin Bagby at Tanglewood, by Michael Miller

Benjamin Bagby brings his tour-de-force performance of Beowulf to the Fitters’Workshop on Saturday, 5 May at 8pm. Tickets are $69/$64 (concession). Book online at



Making Canberra a cultural destination with new board member, Genevieve Jacobs

The Canberra International Music Festival reaffirmed its place as a leading Canberra cultural attraction after a record number of interstate visitors during the 2017 Festival. This week, the Festival adds to its successes with the appointment of broadcaster and writer Genevieve Jacobs to the board.

 The Festival welcomes new board member, Genevieve Jacobs. Photo by Samantha Hawker

The Festival welcomes new board member, Genevieve Jacobs. Photo by Samantha Hawker

The Festival has seen a dramatic increase in interstate visitation over the past three years, with approximately 1 in 6 patrons coming from outside Canberra in 2017, an increase of 43% over the previous year. With Tourism Research Australia’s recent announcement of record total visitation and expenditure for the ACT in 2017, the Festival is positioning itself as significant contributor to the ACT Government’s aim of developing Canberra as a cultural tourism destination.

For Artistic Director Roland Peelman, this growth marks a new era for the Festival:

"For almost 25 years, our Festival has carried the 'international' label in its title for obvious reasons, but it is only recently that its national significance has become apparent. The ever-increasing number of patrons from interstate coming to the Festival makes Canberra a very     exciting place to be this Autumn."

Genevieve Jacobs has been a journalist for 30 years, working in print and radio. She is well known to the local community, having spent over a decade with ABC Canberra, reporting on everything from politics to human interest.

A dedicated volunteer and advocate for community engagement, Genevieve works with a wide range of organisations including the Tara Costigan foundation, Gift of Life ACT and ACT Wildlife Rescue among others. She also sits on the ACT’s advisory committee for historic places.
Her renown in the arts community has attracted the interest of Sydney-based cultural tour company, Renaissance Tours, and she will host a group for the Festival’s opening weekend in the tour company’s inaugural tour to the Canberra region.

An ardent promoter of the Canberra arts community, involvement with the Festival at board level was a natural progression for Genevieve:

“I'm honoured to join the board of the Canberra International Music Festival, and to be part of a major Canberra arts story. CIMF's vision in creating an energetic, diverse, exciting programme of music is a terrific match for the city's strong cultural growth in recent years.

“For me it's a brilliant chance to bring our own arts community and visitors together for ten days of wonderful musical adventures.”

The 2018 Canberra International Music Festival runs from 27 April – 6 May. For more information, visit  

For more information on Renaissance Tours’ 5-day package to the Festival, visit


A sneak peek into our 2018 season

In 2018, the Canberra International Music Festival promises another exhilarating season - 10 incredible days filled to the brim with events, forums, talks and no fewer than 23 concerts! You can expect a wealth of early music, from the great classic epics to a number of masterpieces of the baroque as well as classical music on period instruments.

This year’s featured composers include Bach, Handel, Schubert, Chopin and Stravinsky, alongside world premieres from 2018 composer-in-residence Mary Finsterer. The Festival shines a spotlight on young Australian talent with performances by the Orava Quartet and Bach Akademie Australia. Above all, 2018 will be a celebration: Leonard Bernstein’s one hundredth birthday and Debussy’s centenary with none other than pianist Roger Woodward taking centre stage. The full program will be released in mid-November, but read on for a preview of this year’s selected highlights.

Saturday 28 April | 11AM
Fitters’ Workshop

English-German duo Dapper’s Delight (pictured above) gained renown for their exuberant impromptu performances on the streets of Europe. In this Festival exclusive, these early music specialists present music from a time when English glee clubs morphed into music hall.

 Living Legend Roger Woodward

Living Legend Roger Woodward

Saturday 28 April | 3PM and
Tuesday 1 May | 6:30PM

Power and magic: living legend Roger Woodward returns to his old love for Chopin and Debussy. Over two much anticipated recitals he performs Chopin’s complete Etudes as well as Debussy’s most beguiling poetic tableaux.

 New York based violinist Tim Fain

New York based violinist Tim Fain

Saturday 28 April | 8PM
Fitters' Workshop

Max Richter’s re-invention of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is one the most remarkable and remarked upon musical statements of our time. Tim Fain, Philip Glass’ close collaborator shines on the violin with the Festival strings.  A new take on the passing of nature features the luscious sounds of the Seven Harp Ensemble directed by Alice Giles.

 Madeline Easton at the 2017 Festival. Photo by Peter Hislop

Madeline Easton at the 2017 Festival. Photo by Peter Hislop


Monday 30 April | 6:30PM
Fitters' Workshop


Flies, frogs, locusts, horses and riders, nothing stands in the way of Handel’s wondrous oratorio covering the Israelites’ return to their homeland. A Festival exclusive featuring Bach Akademie Australia.

Thursday 3 May | 6:00PM
Fitters' Workshop


With a reputation for passionate and engaging performances in Australia and abroad, Orava is one of the most exciting string quartets of its generation. Music by Haydn, Rachmaninov and Debussy.

Tickets for the 2018 Festival will go on sale 1 December, with a one week priority booking period for members. Sign up for our newsletter and make sure you are the first to hear all the news about our upcoming season!

The Festival reserves the right to vary any aspect of the program.



Congratulations to our 2016 Festival artists Aaron, Daniel and Pablo Zapico (Forma Antiqva) for their double recognition in Spain's Gema Association of Ancient Music Groups awards

Gema Asociación de Grupos Españoles de Música Antigua

In the categories

** Best Baroque Music Group (s. XVIII)
** Best Label Production 2016 for "Raw love - agostino steffani" (Winter & Winter).