Chamber music’s castles of the mind and UKARIA 24

Once a year a chamber music event takes place at Mount Barker that is becoming known as one of the more audacious musical adventures held anywhere in Australia.

Ulrike Klein always wanted UKARIA 24 to be the centrepiece of her majestic $7 million UKARIA Cultural Centre, and she has taken a different path to other music and wine festivals around the country to make it so.

For a start, UKARIA 24 does not style itself as a ‘festival’. A better word might be ‘journey’. Each time a different curator is given carte blanche to do what they like in constructing a long weekend of chamber music.

This year, Nicolas Altstaedt, the event’s curator and cellist, will have two dancers from Australian Dance Theatre — Matte Roffe and Zoë Dunwoodie — accompanying him while he plays Bach’s Cello Suites Nos 1 and 5. Sharing the stage over the three days there may even be an artist painting while the musicians play.

“Our vision is quite different,” says Klein. “We do not want a formula or for people to know what to expect. We want it to be totally different each year, a new language every time.

“The curator can find his or her own language, express as they feel as a musician, and take more risks. And for an audience, it can take us on a journey into territories unknown and into the mind and personality of the arts. It provides an opportunity to go much deeper. I find that enormously exciting.”

Ulrike Klein (Photo: supplied.)

Intriguing collisions of musical styles and periods occur throughout Altstaedt’s UKARIA 24, courtesy of musicians he knows well: Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang, British violist Lawrence Power, Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin, and Momentum Ensemble — consisting of players from the Australian Youth Orchestra on the verge of professional careers.

Klein says: “I know that having heard [it] the John Cage will give us a totally different way of listening to Haydn. I find a lot of depth in that.”

She invited Altstaedt to direct UKARIA 24 for two reasons. Besides being one of the world’s foremost cellists, this German-French musician has for many years also been directing Austria’s highly esteemed Lockenhaus Festival. Shut away from the world in a remote medieval castle near the Hungarian border, Klein describes this chamber music festival as like visiting “a castle of the mind”.

Founded in 1981 by Gidon Kremer, its principle is that musicians from around the globe come together to form their own ensembles and explore repertoire that they themselves choose. Famously, Lockenhaus Festival dispenses altogether with a printed program, and rehearsals are mostly open to the public so listeners can follow the progress from idea to finished result.

A great admirer of the event, Klein says “Lockenhaus is all about the music. There is no marketing. The musicians create the program from day to day depending on who is there. They have this absolute commitment to the music and that’s what draws the audience there. The normal experience of the concert hall falls away, and one hears music in a totally different way.”

She designed UKARIA 24 along similar lines. It has the same dedication to music and the musicians stay on site to explore ideas.

There will be printed programs for the five concerts but she adds that “within each program there is a lot of flexibility”.

Nicolas Altstaedt (Photo: supplied.)

Altstaedt was particularly inspired to come to UKARIA because of the tranquillity of its natural setting. He visited in September and immediately decided that this year’s U24 would explore our relationship with nature.

“The aspect of nature is very important. First of all to remind us how to protect it. There is a lot of talking about many things in nowaday’s world, but not enough awareness about the future of our planet, though the alarm bells are screaming. The extinction of species and the threats that organisms like the Great Barrier Reef encounter every day through us, have still not made us change our way of living to guarantee further living in biodiversity.

“We seem to be distracted by short-term ambitions, time and money determine our actions,” he says.

“Coming to UKARIA gives us a possibility to see the world without distraction and be in touch with our environment directly. I believe it impacts our minds to focus on the essential things and enables art to be unprejudiced, creative and free. I wanted to meet new people here and artists from a non-musical background to spend time together and interact.

“New experiences are always more interesting than established patterns, but I also wanted to share music that has had a considerable impact and keeps inspiring me.”

UKARIA 24
Curated by Nicolas Altstaedt
June 9 – 11
UKARIA Cultural Centre
ukaria.com

Header image: UKARIA Cultural Centre concert hall ceiling

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