There is something quite romantic in the idea of making a trip out of town to attend a music festival, especially in the middle of winter to one of the coldest places close to Melbourne, Woodend. The weather was bright but oh so chilly, while the church hall was warm and resonant with great music making. In between concerts we found ourselves an open fire and Glühwein at some of the local establishments.
The first thing that impressed us at Hofland Music, were the excellent acoustics of the Ambrose Church hall. The high domed ceiling and rectangular shape was reminiscent of fine concert halls like the Wigmore in London or the Konzerthalle in Berlin, though on a much more intimate scale. The sound was resonant and warm, all the way to the last pew. I did entertain a fantasy of ripping out the hard wooden church pews and replacing them with some lovely concert hall seating to complete the analogy.
I was lucky to sit up close and intimate to the booming rich accordion as played by the Italian Pietro Roffi. This instrument was an orchestra in a box, and Pietro had such a wonderful control of the bellows it was inspiring to watch. He gave a varied concert of "classical favorites" transcriptions and some exciting original music written for the instrument. The most interesting for me was a piece entitled Gernika by Gorka Hermosa. It was inspired by the Picasso painting of the same name. The piece captured the wrenching conflict, mirroring the chaos of the painting, the sheer terror and the beauty as well of the human spirit. He also played Astor Piazolla, a composer that is highly suited to the gypsy sound of this instrument, and Wladislaw Zolotarjov.
In the evening I got up close and personal to the big shiny black Steinway in the St Ambrose Hall. For a plain hall it was packed with atmosphere through its soft lighting, and warming heaters. The piano was placed well inside the semi circle of chairs. The audience surrounded pianist Clarence Lee, who came out looking the part in full concert regalia. His playing was big and exciting tackling the debussy Estampes, Chopin Ballade No 4 and Liszt Transcendental Etude No 8, Schubert Fantasie in C Major. He played with amazing attention to detail as well bringing out the music. I don't think he put a note wrong, and he captured the imagination of the audience, who almost wouldn't let him go. They cheered and stamped their feet until he gave two beautiful encores, graciously thanking the audience. By the end of the performance he was physically spent and dripping with sweat. A remarkable evening that would have stood its own in a much grander location but was all the more enjoyable for being in this intimate space.