How our balmy army marches to its own drum as it heads north for chamber music

Each year thousands of people flock to Townsville for the Australian Festival of Chamber Music

Mar 21, 2024, updated Mar 21, 2024
Artistic director of the Australian Festival of Camber Music Jack Liebeck, is looking forward to a balmy winter in North Queensland.

Artistic director of the Australian Festival of Camber Music Jack Liebeck, is looking forward to a balmy winter in North Queensland.

It seems Jack Liebeck was always destined to become artistic director of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville.

The North Queensland city has become a home away from home for the renowned English violinist and the festival is on again this year from July 26 to 4 August.

Each year music lovers flock north for the event, forming a kind of balmy army. Well, the weather is kind in Townsville that time of year.

Liebeck, 43, starred at the festival in his 20s when his friend, the pianist Piers Lane, who grew up in Brisbane, let him in on a little secret.

“I met Piers and we got on super well,” Liebeck recalls when we meet for coffee in Brisbane. “He said to me – keep it quiet but I think I might be getting this job in Australia. He said – if I get it you are coming to my first festival. So, he became artistic director and I went to Townsville and had a big success. I went back and I think I went seven times for Piers.”

Liebeck recalls one of the AFCM board members saying to him that he would one day be running it, but he dismissed the idea.

Eventually, after the resignation of his immediate predecessor, Kathryn Stott, he got the call he wasn’t expecting.

“I thought they just wanted to pick my brains or something,” he recalls. “Then I thought, maybe I could do it but then I thought, don’t be so big-headed.”

Liebeck’s experience of creating his own little festival in the UK, Oxford May Music, proved he could do the job. But that is a small event. AFCM has grown, like topsy, and now takes up a lot of Liebeck’s time and energy, but he is okay with that.

He has an expansive program this year featuring more than 35 artists including 10 internationals. And as it was Piers Lane who introduced him to Australia in the first place it seems only fair that Lane should be one of the artists headlining this year. So, he is.

Lane was artistic director for more than a decade and really put the AFCM on the national and international chamber music map. Liebeck has his own style and is very much his own man, but he has retained the legacy events bequeathed by Lane.

“Like the Concert Conversations, which Piers established,” Liebeck says. “If I got rid of them there’d be a riot.”

Liebeck’s innovations include creating a Festival Garden outside Townsville’s Civic Theatre for festival goers. Another innovation is his Guilty Pleasures series (the whole festival is Liebeck’s guilty pleasure, he says), which features musicians playing things that could be regarded as unexpected, things that may fall outside traditional notions of chamber music.

For example, Israeli pianist Itamar Golan will be playing Famous Blue Raincoat by Leonard Cohen while Jackie Newcomb, principal contrabassoon with the Adelaide Symphony, will be doing Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time.

Another program theme that is new is Lost But Not Forgotten. Liebeck explains it features composers whose music has disappeared or never come to light due to war and other circumstances.

“This year we will also be saying adieu to our beloved Goldner String Quartet, who so movingly announced their retirement at the festival last year,” Liebeck says. “The 2024 program is very much a Goldner-fest.”

Liebeck says after two years at the helm and watching and talking to audiences it made him realise that AFCM fans don’t just want to experience music in a passive way, they want to understand it on a deeper level.

“One of the distinctive features of the AFCM is its commitment to fostering a unique connection between artists and audiences,” he says.

“The festival encourages a sense of intimacy and engagement, offering opportunities for attendees to interact with the performers through forums, masterclasses and special events. This creates a rare and immersive experience, allowing enthusiasts to delve into the intricacies of chamber music and gain insights into the creative process.

“Our resident musicologist Stephen Johnson was such a hit in 2023 that I have invited him to come back, his musical wisdom and insight is truly festival-enhancing. Learning what goes on behind the notes is so valuable to really gain insight into what you hear our musicians perform.

“Among other things, he will guide us through Ravel Piano Trio and Brahms Horn Trio as well as give insight into what it is in music that really makes us feel something when we listen to it. It will be fascinating.”

This is all towards creating what Liebeck hopes will be “a thinking person’s chamber music festival”.

Opening Night features Festival Feelings, the beginning of the Goldner String Quartet’s farewell and this year The Governor’s Gala is called Angels, Demons and Other Nastie and features musical fare around that theme including Brett Dean’s The Voices of Angels.

One of the events Liebeck suggests shouldn’t be missed is the Ray Golding Sunset Series 4, Brothers in Love.

Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann shared much in common but perhaps the most memorable and relatable element is they both loved the same woman, composer Clara,” Liebeck says. “In this program of works by these three composers we will gain an insight into their souls via both song and instrumental music.”

Liebeck has a dry wit and is plain talking and well, a bit of a tough Londoner. But he confesses to getting a bit emotional when he sees his program come to life.

“To see something that’s been in my head or on a laptop spreadsheet for a year and a half …and then I can see the audience sitting there enraptured, it’s the best thing.”

There are AFCM holiday packages available including airfares, day tours and festival events. To book a travel package and see the whole program, go to: 

This article is republished from InReview under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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