Current Issue #488

Classical Music Amid the Vines

Classical Music Amid the Vines

With the grape harvest now in and cooler months setting in, it is opportune to look at some of the perhaps lesser known secrets that South Australia’s wine districts have to offer.

Food, wine and music share a natural affinity, and it’s a combination we do well in this state. It all started with that most revered event, Brenton Langbein and John Russell’s Barossa Music Festival, which brought to a dozen wineries and churches dotted around the Valley a truly remarkable assemblage of chamber musicians from Australia and abroad.

These days we see more compact iterations of the food, wine and music experience. Bassoonist Jane Gower held a winter evening dinner event, Barossa Klassik, for a couple of years at Torbreck Vintners, as did violinist Niki Vasilakis in her Barossa Chateau Classics luncheon concerts at Lyndoch that coincided with the September Barossa Gourmet Weekend.

As far as annual festivals or festival-like events in South Australia’s wine areas, there are currently three, and these are small and mainly in-house. Indeed, intimacy is their advantage, for without anywhere near the budget of the big publicly funded festivals, they are nevertheless able to offer close-up experiences of chamber music in barrel rooms and restaurants whose acoustics really make this glow. The veteran of 18 years is the Coriole Music Festival at McLaren Vale in May. Directed by Chris Burrell and now the redoubtable Anthony Steel no less, it is a thoroughgoing affair with typically a high profile string quartet, singer and pianist at its core, delivering three concerts that explore less frequently heard works of the repertoire in richly devised programs.

In August comes the ingenious newcomer, Ukaria 24, up at Mount Barker in the superb, Anton Johnson designed concert hall that is the dream child of Ulrike Klein. In its second year, this three-day event appoints a nationally renowned musician to conceive four entirely original concerts that combine arrangements of classical repertoire with contemporary works from around the globe. Scottish accordionist James Crabb curates it this year.


Meanwhile, the Australian String Quartet (ASQ) has found a cheery little spot for itself at Tanunda, where it is now the nucleus of Barossa Baroque & Beyond at Tununda during the Labour Day long weekend. Run by Margaret Lehmann and curated by ASQ’s cellist Sharon Grigoryan, this dinner-themed, three-concert event is built on an informal spirit of camaraderie between the musicians and audience.

It is this ability to create atmosphere and connection that make these smaller festivals special. At Coriole, the musicians live in the ‘hut’ near the winery’s celebrated barrel shed where the weekend concerts take place, and afterwards they join in at mealtime with the audience. “It’s not about coercing performers to play with each other as it might be if it is another big festival,” says Coriole’s Mark Lloyd. “Last year in the hut the excitement was just fantastic. It is something you can try to engender, and it’s a lot of work for a music director to engender, but sometimes it just falls into place.”

Anthony Steel adds: “The thing I love most of all is the acoustics and the relationship with the audience. It means that chamber music is performed in a chamber, not a large auditorium as often happens, and the relationship between the performer and audience is really quite extraordinary”. His 2017 program sees the return of Tinalley String Quartet, pianist Konstantin Shamray, and tenor Andrew Goodwin; return visits by artists also help to cement the bond with audiences.


It’s similar with Ukaria 24 and Barossa Baroque & Beyond: artists live on site, and audience members can mingle with them over a glass of wine and supper. Ulrike Klein, founder and director of Ukaria, says her event is “not about how artists come in, have a gig and go” but rather about sharing in an inspirational journey with the audience. “It is a truly holistic experience, a meeting place for artists, and for everyone like climbing a mountain over the weekend. The power of the place, the respect people have for the landscape, and for what we have done to create this event – that’s very important for us.”

At Barossa Baroque & Beyond, Lehmann aims to drop barriers as much as possible and just let the musicians and listeners enjoy themselves as much as possible. “I would call it musically top drawer with a smile on its face,” says Lehmann. Cabaret seating, spontaneity in the programming, and surprise cameo appearances by unexpected guests – last year it was foodie Maggie Beer singing Summertime – all contribute to the event’s free-flowing atmosphere.

“Our underlying wish for this festival is to keep it small, simple and great fun,” echoes Sharon Grigoryan. “One thing I love is its friendliness. For the musicians, it is almost like a weekend get-away. You can sit together on the verandah and just relax. I think an audience feels that.”

Coriole Music Festival
Saturday, May 6 to Sunday May 7

Ukaria 24
Friday, August 25 to Sunday, August 27

Barossa Baroque & Beyond
Saturday, September 30 to Sunday, October 1

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