Day Seven: Thursday May 7

Forest Music at the Gardens and Brahms’ birthday

The Australian National Botanic Gardens is a living, photosynthesising research institution but also a place of sensuous beauty and peace. Yesterday, to the bemusement of a group of primary school kids, it was filled with grown-ups on a musical treasure hunt. Forest Music, the fourth in the Sounds on Site series, set the audience free to wander at will, following our ears, to find the musicians in their various ecosystems. YAFF string players were performing Glass by the creek in the temperate rainforest, and on a platform higher up, The Song Company sang songs of cognitive dissonance. I caught a Martin Wesley-Smith piece about extinction, chilling in its jaunty sarcasm. Next I found saxophonist James Nightingale under a tree, and there was Alex Raupach standing alone on a sandstone rock, playing his muted trumpet. Pete Harden’s electric guitar permeated the Red Centre; a young violinist filled the Sydney Gully with plangent melody. Near the Asteraceae garden, Claire Edwardes was taking her sticks to flower pots, carefully selected for pitch, and Bree van Reyk was creating all sorts of organic sounds. I came upon three of the four wind players perched in a Eucalyptus amplifolia. And what was countertenor Toby Cole doing squeezed into a wigwam of melaleuca branches with two members of his family? Playing the violin, as it happened, as he’s under doctor’s orders not to sing. Dr Judy West, the director of the Gardens, spoke about the ANBG’s role in conservation – 300 endangered species are grown on site – and the link between science and art. She connected emerging artists – the Festival’s YAFFs – and the germination of seeds and cultivation of seedlings. Three artists-in-residence have taken part in the bogs and swamps project, with each spending three weeks alone in a hut in Namadgi or Kosciusko. One was a Japanese sculptor from Tokyo. Their finished work is now on display at Craft ACT in Civic.

Happy birthday, Brahms! I don’t know why his complex and subtle Intermezzi for piano aren’t performed more often, but last night we were lucky enough to hear Daniel de Borah play three of them from Opus 119, followed by two exquisite songs that feature the viola, not so much as an accompaniment, it seemed to me, but as an equal partner with the voice. The piano was beautifully restrained – not every soloist is such a sensitive ensemble player – and the balance was perfect. Young mezzo-soprano Hannah Fraser, who is developing into a versatile singer, touched us all with her lovely voice and graceful interpretation. But it was also, as violinist Helene Pohl of the New Zealand String Quartet pointed out, the viola’s night. The acoustic of the Fitters’ Workshop was kind to the instrument, allowing its mellow warmth to come through in Gillian Ansell’s fine playing. In Brahms’ String Quartet No. 3 (Opus 67) the viola comes out of the shadows in the third and fourth movements. The New Zealand String Quartet sparkled, and I look forward to seeing them again on Saturday.

Concert 16 was dedicated to the memory of renowned epidemiologist Dr Tony McMichael and supported by Judith Healy. Concert 17 was supported by Anna and Bob Prosser.

– Diana Brown