Helene shares her love of music festivals

04 November 2014 / Features

Ever since I was a teenager, I have loved the words “Welcome to our event/festival/camp!  Here is your information pack” and have opened the envelope with excited anticipation. At first the names and places mostly don’t mean all that much, but as the days wear on each entry becomes flesh and blood, acquiring a special meaning and reality. Names become friends, places acquire memories and events and concerts become real. These alternate universes have a special intensity that makes time go more slowly. A long weekend can feel like two weeks, and ten days like a month. When the events are over the emotions experienced remain vivid and can last for years.

It was mostly music camps that had this special flavour during my teenage years. As an adult, the closest things to this sort of full-on immersion in a group event are the music festivals we are fortunate to be involved with. Over the years we’ve experienced many such wonderful events around the world. Successful music festivals share several characteristics:  a location people want to visit – often with wonderful weather, amenities or other arts attractions – a musician-led programme of works and artists, an intense schedule of concerts and associated events, an audience willing to immerse themselves in the experience, staff that go way beyond what any normal job description would require, and dedicated volunteers who assist with all the nuts and bolts. Each features wonderful friendships among artists, staff, volunteers, sponsors, and audience - renewed friendships from long ago all the way to new friends of whom you wonder where they've been all your life.  

When we arrive at a festival, we musicians step out of the rhythm of daily life into a deliciously rich stew of performance preparation and discovery - both of new works, and of new ways of approaching the familiar with new artistic collaborators.  We perform practically every day, sometimes more than once, and stay on a sort of performance high that lasts the duration of the festival.  We are inspired by the other performances we hear in between our own and feel the keen interest that the audience brings to the music – it feeds our preparation and performances, as well as cementing the relationships between performers and audience members.  Because we are sharing this intense experience, we feel the importance of the art we are bringing to life, and it gives special vibrancy to the whole musical experience. When we encounter those same audience members at other concerts, we feel like we have a special musical bond.

In July 2014 we celebrated our tenth annual visit to the Festival of the Sound in Parry Sound, Ontario. Over the years we've made very special friends there, from the inspired Artistic Director James Campbell to board members, volunteers and audience members, and we have heard many truly uplifting performances by other artists. The audience is a wonderful mixture of ages and backgrounds and many are long-time chamber music devotees. In fact, an audience member told us about hearing the Busch Quartet, which disbanded in 1945, play the Haydn quartet (opus 54 no 2, with the gypsy lament) with which we opened our concert! The setting, right on the shores of Lake Huron, is magical and the purpose-built hall an acoustic delight.

Another festival we've appeared at regularly is the Ottawa Chamberfest. This is the world's largest chamber music festival (over 100 concerts each season) with numerous concerts in multiple venues at once, all over Ottawa. Passholders aren't guaranteed seats to any specific concerts, so the audience queues can stretch around the block for popular events. These waits add a huge buzz, and are a wonderful breeding ground for many friendships!

In August 2014, we were in Townsville at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music. It is another spectacular example of what I've just described, with a dizzying array of stunning concerts each day, a huge group of "Gold Pass Holders" who manage to go to everything, an artistic director of unflagging vision (Piers Lane), an army of volunteers, and a midwinter tropical ambiance that gives everything a special glow.

And every second February we look forward to our own version with our Adam Festival in Nelson. Nelson has all the attributes of a dream holiday destination. Our venues feature perfect acoustics and ambiance, we have a great team behind us and we can't wait to share our fabulous guest artists with the audience. Our Northern Hemisphere guests always love trading winter for summer, and our ever-growing Australian audiences are delighted to escape the heat! We savour every moment of great music making along with our friends - both colleagues and audience.

Helene Pohl, First Violinist, New Zealand String Quartet and Co-Artistic Director, Adam Chamber Music Festival

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