Canberra Airport's departure lounge the star of the show

BY Ian Warden
Appearing in print and online 6 May 2017

Taking Flight-An International Showcase, Canberra International Airport, Tuesday 2 May 11am

Everyone knows about the Grey Nomads but it was the Grey Aesthetes (this columnist is one of them) that made up most of the enthralled audience at Tuesday's unique concert of the Canberra International Music Festival.

The free concert (free things are very attractive to Grey Aesthetes for so many of us are retiree battlers) was held in the spacious, daylight-lit atrium of the Canberra Airport's departures area. To get into the atrium one had of course to pass though airport security. Your unsuspicious columnist glided through, mercifully unfrisked, but another similarly senior, similarly Anglo-Saxon chap was not being so lucky.

 Canberra Airport's departures lounge was the ideal place for a concert. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Canberra Airport's departures lounge was the ideal place for a concert. Photo: Rohan Thomson

"Do I look like a terrorist?" he was fuming as security folk were giving him a polite but thorough (shoes off) frisking.

I had some sympathy with the security people. The elderly like to imagine that they are dear old things above all suspicion but there is often something innately sinister about seniors. Dickens knew this and some of his nastiest bits of work are oldies. And how terrible it would be to bump into a John Howard (77) or worse still a Philip Ruddock (74) on a dark night!

But I am reporting the concert so as to sing our city's praises. Again and again Canberra turns on occasions that bristle with excellence and that make one glad to be here and not banished to Barnaby Joyce's hellish, yokel-infested regional centres. This concert Taking Flight: An International Showcase was the national capital at its clever and bustling best.

Splendid international artists included New Zealand bassoonist Ben Hoadley, the effervescent Simon Bolivar String Quartet of Venezuela, and, joy of joys, the colourfully-costumed damsels of the China Orient Orchestra.

But in a sense the artistes' venue, the spacious, lofty, gleaming white space of the atrium with its great glass wall (offering a panorama of skies and runways), was the star of the occasion. It was probably never imagined as a concert venue. On Tuesday it was still a public space with passengers and pilots coming and going and with (above the music) announcements of final calls for those flying to Brisbane.

But if never imagined as a concert venue it certainly is a grand, unusual, informal one. The comings and goings (including, through the great glass wall the comings and goings of the Virgin's red and white Boeings) made for a happy absence of the stiff and snobby ambience of formal concert halls. Fine music should, I insist, always be looking for novel and informal venues, and for different audiences. It should be happening at airports, at railway stations, among the pumpkins and cabbages at teeming farmers' markets. It should even happen (why not arrange this next year, festival organisers?) at half time in Raiders' matches and during period breaks in CBR ice hockey matches at the unfashionable but characterful Philip Ice Rink.

Ice hockey fans (I am one and so speak with authority on this) would love, while they queue for their pies, hot dogs and hot chips with tomato sauce, to be entertained by performers like Tuesday's Ben Hoadley and the China Orient Orchestra.

Hoadley, long and slender just like his bassoon (do virtuosos come to resemble their instruments in the uncanny way in which we dog owners come to resemble our dogs?) played a contemporary New Zealand piece. It incorporates the distinctive call of a bird species unique to New Zealand. When he rehearses this piece at home, Hoadley told us, real birds of the species respond to the bassoony bird call and come down to his window to listen to it.

The China Orient Orchestra, too, would be a great hit with the tattooed fans at the frosty hockey rink. On Tuesday the damsels sat, playing, at five horizontal string instruments (imagine horizontal harps or zithers) creating a resounding and celestial jingle-jangle ringing.

As they played the players swayed slowly back and forth in elegant unison, in the same way in which riverside reeds sway in a breeze. Through the glass wall one could see that even the clouds, hitherto gliding along, had paused to watch and to listen.

The Grey Aesthetes, too, were enchanted and mesmerised. If the frisked and angry senior citizen was still there among the Grey Aesthetes then these celestial zitherings must surely have calmed his troubled breast.

Read the article online here.