Three classical musicians with an Armidale connection will present a concert spanning more than four centuries, from the Italian Renaissance and the court of Elizabeth I to the modern day, at the New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM) on Sunday afternoon.
Soprano Hester Wright and recorder player Anita Blackburn, both Armidale natives, will join English lutenist Roxana Gundry to perform “Songs of Darkness and Light: Music for Lute, Recorder and Soprano”, a recital of music either written for or associated with the lute, once the most popular instrument in the Western world. This is both Ms Wright and Ms Gundry’s first professional performance in Armidale.
The concert, already performed in Sydney, promises a mixture of old favourites, unfamiliar pieces, and modern lute compositions. Many of the pieces were originally performed at a pub, or in someone’s house, so suit the quiet, intimate space at NERAM.
Among the popular favourites are the ever-green Greensleeves, which will be played to a Ground, or repeating bass line.
"The recorder plays a melody over the top, which starts off sounding quite familiar, and then gets more and more complicated,” Ms Wright said. “It's amazing because you can hear the familiar tune, but then the artists get the chance to show off their virtuosity."
Anita Blackburn will play strikingly modern-sounding solo recorder works from the Baroque.
"One of them is quite experimental,” Ms Wright said. “It's fascinating to listen to a piece that was written several hundred years ago, but has some really modern sounds to it, so the style won't be too unfamiliar to people who listen to contemporary classic music."
Ms Gundry will also perform variations on John Dowland's Lachrimae, with variations by another composer.
"People will hear the original tune, and then hear someone else's take on it,” Ms Wright said. “I always find it fascinating how people hear things and then build on them."
The concert is a return home for Hester Wright, who has been based in Sydney since leaving Armidale nearly twenty years ago.
“I still really love Armidale. It's a place that is so musical, and I think would really appreciate this kind of concert. I'm very passionate about being able to share this music with as many people as possible, so to be able to bring songs that people won't know up there, but that hopefully they will enjoy.”
She moved to Sydney in the early 2000s, and now sings with the Brandenburg Choir and the Choir of Cantillation, among others. She was part of the youth choir singing with the Rolling Stones in Sydney and the Hunter Valley on their "2014 On Fire" tour. A choral conductor and music teacher, last year she conducted some Armidale City Public School students as part of the Primary Arena Choir at the 2017 Schools Spectacular.
Hester Wright grew up outside Armidale, and went to NEGS in high school, where she met Alana Blackburn. This is the first time they have played together since 2000, when they were tenor saxophonists together in NEGS’ stage band.
Dr Blackburn studied in Sydney Conservatorium and the Netherlands, and has performed widely throughout Europe. She lectures at the University of New England, is on the board of the New England Conservatorium of Music, and co-ordinates the Armidale Music Foundation Choral Weekend.
Roxana Gundry also has a surprising connection to Armidale. Last year, when Ms Wright was at a masterclass in the UK given by soprano Dame Emma Kirkby, she discovered that Ms Gundry knew her family.
“We were swapping numbers, and she said, 'Oh, do you know the Wrights of Armidale?' I said: 'Yes!' It turned out that she knows my cousin's grandparents, and had met my cousins and all this kind of crazy stuff! On the basis of that, we went, 'Oh, you should come out; we should do some concerts in Sydney and in Armidale, because that would be fantastic!' And it’s happened.”
“Songs of Darkness and Light” is at the New England Regional Art Museum, 106-114 Kentucky Street, Armidale, at 2pm on Sunday March 25. Children are welcome, and the musicians would love to meet people afterwards over a glass of wine. Tickets cost $25 for adults, $20 for concession holders, and children 10 and under are free. Tickets are available at the door or via Sticky Tickets at www.stickytickets.com.au/64458.