If you were to drive the same distance in Europe as from Brisbane to Armidale (450kms) , it’s quite likely you would cross into another country! In Australia there is no national border to cross, but with the changes in landscape and climate it actually does feel as if one has entered a new country. After the last glimpse of lush subtropical rainforest at Cunningham’s Gap, the highway winds up through granite boulders and gum trees almost 1000m to the New England Tableland. Rows and rows of golden poplars starkly contrast with the grey green of the native vegetation, and city streets are lined with red-leafed trees, possibly maples. The early European settlers must have been delighted to be able to grow these familiar deciduous trees in the cool climate of the Tableland.
Festival performers were delighted to arrive in Armidale to the sound of church bells as the local team of bell ringers completed their weekly practise session. We all pulled on our overcoats and scarves, and went out in the chilly night to either teach masterclasses or enjoy the Festival opening recital by harpsichordist Peter Hagen, who had driven for two days from the opposite direction with his double-manual French harpsichord. Four days of intense rehearsals, performing, and teaching followed, but there was still time for me to listen to Bach-inspired jazz late at night, and take in the start of the organ crawl – Armidale has four churches with pipe organs all within about 5 minutes walk!
It somehow seems fitting that Australia’s only music festival dedicated to JS Bach, one of Europe’s greatest composers, should take place in this environment. The music of JS Bach has inspired people of many generations, and many nationalities. It is part of our cultural heritage but, in an era when this nation is obsessed with the issue of cultural identity, it is becoming increasingly difficult for festival organisers to find funding. Let’s hope that people do recognise the value of this biennial event and that it continues for many years to come. Here is a link to the New England Bach Festival program for 2012