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Peninsula Summer Music Festival Recital Series at St John’s Church, Flinders

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by Elizabeth Quinn (subscribe)
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A surprise package of eclectic, exciting music old and new
Traditionally, St John's Church at Flinders is the venue for a full Saturday of musical events during the Peninsula Summer Music Festival.

This year's program kicked off at 10am with bassoon virtuoso Carol Wang - winner of the Melbourne Recital Centre's Great Romantics Competition - accompanied by pianist Peter de Jager, a brilliant solo festival performer in his own right.

The afternoon program began with a selection of Strauss, Schubert and Wagner lieder. As a 16-year-old Geelong schoolgirl, soprano Lee Abrahmsen was more Streisand than Sutherland, but an introduction to Schubert's lieder changed all that. On Saturday, she raised the roof at St John's Church in Flinders as part of the Peninsula Summer Music Festival with a selection of her favourite lieder by Schubert, Strauss and Wagner.

Abrahmsen started out gently with the poetry of Goethe put to music by Schubert. She worked her way through a repertoire of Strauss and ended with Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder. Supported by pianist Caroline Almonte and the acoustics of the modest little coastal church, Abrahmsen provided a welcome musical interlude on a warm summer's afternoon.

Next up was a repertoire designed for the unusual combination of saxophone and piano for which Duo Eclettico is renowned. Saxophonist Justin Kenealy and pianist Coady Green delivered a program full of joy and youthful exuberance, from the classical through to the current day.

Tim Dargaville, composer of 'Water Has No Equal' - the piece for which the program was named - was in the audience and spoke of his creative process. It was a revealing insight into the workings of the composer's mind and a surprise bonus for audience members. Justin Kenealy spoke of his fascination for arranging traditional works of JS Bach for the saxophone. He went on to prove that it can work by playing a violin Sonata in G Minor (long attributed to JS but now generally thought to be that of his son Carl Phillip Emmanuel) arranged for piano and saxophone.

The day ended with an evening performance by Solstice Trio. 'Hear the Music She Makes' was a program true to the trio's raison d'ętre of 'breaking the piano trio out of its classical traditions'. Pianist Georgina Lewis, cellist Stephanie Arnold and violinist Natasha Conrau put on an energy-filled performance of pieces by women, beginning with twelfth-century composer Hildegard von Bingen's chant 'O nobilissima viriditas'.

With the exception of Clara Schumann's Piano Trio in G Minor and Nadia Boulanger's 'Three Pieces for Cello and Piano', the remainder of the program was drawn entirely from the works of women composers created within the past five years. It's a sign of the direction artistic director Ben Opie is taking with the festival, and one that may both startle and excite regular festival-goers.

In his introduction to 'Water Has No Equal', Tim Dargaville spoke of the need of composers to hear their music played a number of times to fully understand what it's about. 'New music takes a long time to develop a life,' he says.

While the classical tradition has long been the mainstay of the Peninsula Summer Music Festival, innovation is needed in order to develop new traditions that will themselves become 'classics' further down the track. Saturday's program at St John's Church took the audience in directions they may not have otherwise gone: a move that should be applauded.

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Why? An eclectic musical program in exciting Mornington Peninsula venues
When: Saturday January 4 2020
Phone: 0431 126 125
Where: St John's Church King St Flinders
Cost: $65/$55 concession ( booking fee) or $200 recital package of all 4 concerts
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