Brisbane Baroque is the latest milestone in Brisbane’s emergence as a cultural capital.
After two successful years in Tasmania, Hobart Baroque has become Brisbane Baroque. For festival director Leo Schofield, the decision to relocate this celebration of the music that defined “the most phenomenal creative period in the history of humanity” to Brisbane was a simple one.
“I’ve lived in Hobart, I’ve lived in Sydney and I’ve lived in Melbourne,” Schofield says, “and I have to say there is a real awareness of a new energy and liveliness in the Brisbane cultural scene. It’s been cracking for a few years, of course, since GoMA opened, but it’s very much become a mecca for people seeking out the unusual and the rare; the stuff they’re never going to see in their home town.”
The festival appeals both to longtime lovers of baroque, and to those who are simply curious about this European movement that encompassed painting, sculpture, architecture, theatre and music in the 17th and 18th centuries. For instance, the centrepiece of the program is the Australian premiere of Faramondo, a lost Handel opera that has been lifted out of obscurity and given a makeover for modern audiences by director Paul Curran.
“It’s been given such a modern twist,” Schofield raves. “Curran has been influenced by the films of Al Pacino and Martin Scorsese, so it’s got a lot of action and it absolutely fits. The music may be of the 18th century, but the action has been given a modern relevance. It’s like Shakespeare — Hamlet doesn’t necessarily have to be dressed in Danish costume and set in 1210, you know?”
The festival’s star power will be supplied by Max Emanuel Cencic, the phenomenal countertenor who has performed at the most prestigious opera houses in the world.
“He’s absolutely extraordinary,” Schofield says. “He began his career at the age of six when he sang a fiendishly difficult aria from The Magic Flute on television in his native Croatia, and he became a national hero… he’s matured and found himself with this astonishing range and talent. He’s also got a great sense of drama, so he’s able to infuse his singing with real theatrical urgency.”
Brisbane City Hall will take centre stage for another of the festival’s highlights, the 5x5x5@5 series.
“This is five recitals of baroque music, by five Australian soloists and ensembles, at five o’clock, for five dollars a ticket,” Schofield explains. “That’s the price of a packet of chips! So if anyone has even a modicum of curiosity, they might skip the chips and pop in to hear some Purcell.
“One other thing that people should see, that they’ll probably never see again in their lifetimes, is the performance at St Mary’s Church in Kangaroo Point of Biber’s Rosary Sonatas. It’s extraordinarily spiritual music, and it requires a phenomenally talented violinist to play it, particularly on a baroque violin. We have Australia’s best virtuoso on that instrument, Julia Fredersdorff, and she’s going to tackle the whole lot in one day. It’s a four hour marathon… so the chance to hear that live doesn’t come along too often.
“But then, a lot of the stuff in this festival – people are only going to hear it if they come to Brisbane for it. Most of the great festivals in the world, for all of their artistic success, were founded as tourist attractions, and I think there’s nothing wrong with that at all.”
Brisbane Baroque runs from 10 April to 18 April. For more information, visit brisbanebaroque.com.au.