CIMF, Concert 1 / “Seeds Of Life”. At the National Arboretum, April 28. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA.

IT’S 20 years since the 2003, Canberra bushfires swept through the location of the present-day National Arboretum and at the time, director of the Canberra International Music Festival director Roland Peelman told guests at the festival’s opening concert this morning, it looked “very charred”.

Not any longer, with the brilliant colouring of Canberra’s autumn leaves making the 10-year-old Arboretum the perfect location for a multi-stage wander through music and dance to mark both the beginning of both the festival and Australian Dance Week.

“Seeds of Life”, set in three different locations, provided an optimistic, entertaining opening to the event and began with a totally surprising performance by clarinettist, Oliver Shermacher, that proved beyond doubt that music can be very funny indeed.

First up, in the Margaret Whitlam Pavilion, was his performance of “Una Chica en Nirvana” (a young girl from Nirvana) by Swiss composer Jürg Wyttenbach, where the multi-skilled Shermacher mixed falsetto singing in Spanish and German with his clarinet playing, at one stage turning his instrument into a microphone, while also using various props to create sound.

The centrepiece of this section was the delicious “Stargazers” by Australian composer Alice Chance, now living in Paris.

Here we, the audience, played the background music via an app on our phones as while Shermacher played like a planet wandering among the chords and percussive sounds of the celestial bodies. What would it have been like if staged by night in this location?

In the last section, Shermacher performed Nikola Resanovic’s “”, to a recorded background dominated by keyboard and percussion. Resanovic has asked listeners to imagine a farmer in a remote field of the Balkans accessing NASDAQ on his device. That may explain why the composition turns into a jolly klezmer-style Balkan dance before a digital “voice” disconnects Shermacher.

As tiny sprinkles of rain fell, the audience relocated to the Arboretum’s “Gallery of Gardens”, where Miroslav Bukovsky played a muted trumpet to the sound of falling water, after which Flora Carbo on saxophone with Theo Carbo on electric guitar and then John Mackey on solo sax, responded to the garden.

The final garden performance featured Djinama Yilaga choir from the south coast, who sang several moving songs in the Dhurga language. Their tuneful song selection finished with a number inspired by the four winds – the winds whipped up right on cue.

Dancers perform the new work “Hillscape”. Photo: Peter Hislop

The finale was a new dance work, “Hillscape”, by choreographer Ashlee Bye, of the Australian Dance Party, performed to an original score by Canberra composer Dan Walker.

Walker’s score, dominated by keyboard and percussion, featured stops, starts and pregnant pauses as his music constantly changed rhythm to suit the dance for which it was composed.

The three dancers, Bye, Yolanda Lowatta and Patricia Hayes Cavanagh, played with billowing silks in different parts of the huge amphitheatre. Necessarily their movements were large – rolling down the hill, climbing back, occasionally meeting in synchronicity, separating again and eventually, with the silks billowing again, ending up down on the flat space.

Feature image: Clarinettist, Oliver Shermacher… proved beyond doubt that music can be very funny indeed. Photo: Peter Hislop

This review was originally written and published by HELEN MUSA from CityNews on 28 April 2023.