The freshness of spring is an apt time to launch a brand-new festival, and that is exactly what violinist Emma Jardine is doing with the inaugural Oberon Chamber Music festival, in the NSW central tablelands town of Oberon over the last weekend of November 2023.
Located around a three-hour drive west of Sydney and on the far side of the Blue Mountains, this town of over 3000 people with several heritage-listed sites is where Jardine is realising her vision of a gala feast of chamber music.
A graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts, Emma Jardine is violinist with the Streeton Trio. Her career spans recital, orchestral and chamber music performances in Europe, the UK, Asia and Australia. For several years a member of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and the Camerata Menuhin in Switzerland, where she pursued post-graduate study in Geneva, she has played as Guest Principal and Guest Associate Principal Second Violin with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and performed with the Melbourne and West Australian Symphony Orchestras. A committed pedagogue, she has also performed on radio and TV and received several awards and scholarships.
For Jardine, chamber music is the ultimate form of music-making. Speaking to SoundsLikeSydney from her home in Oberon, she outlines her thinking behind the program she has compiled. “I believe that chamber music is the most intimate, immediate and expressive way of communicating music with an audience. So, for this program I’ve chosen a mix of some of the absolute masterpieces of the chamber repertoire – those pieces that give you goosebumps when you listen to them. Because this is the first festival, I especially wanted to pick pieces that would give people a magical experience. We have the “Trout” Quintet by Schubert and Ravel’s Piano Trio; a gorgeous concert with harp, soprano and clarinet, playing The Shepherd on the Rock. We have the amazing Diana Doherty giving an oboe recital and also playing in a trio by Lachlan Skipworth that was commissioned by Music Viva Australia which the Streeton Trio played right around Australia. People loved it and it absolutely brought the house down. This program is a mix of new and old works but includes quite a few blockbusters for the occasion.”
Jardine describes the preparation for the festival as considerable but is palpably excited about this inaugural event which will unite some of her favourite repertoire and colleagues. “It was a little over a year ago that we started our planning and it’s been a lot of work” she explains. “I have always dreamt of holding a chamber music festival because it is such a great opportunity to collaborate with all the musicians I’ve always wanted to work with. I have invited some of my favourite colleagues to come and play; people who I think are some of the most outstanding chamber musicians that I’ve worked with in this country. I wanted to bring them all together to perform in one place. I’m so excited that we also have this newly renovated venue. I think it’s going to be a fantastic program and I hope this will become an annual event.”
The “newly renovated venue” that Jardine refers to is Oberon’s Malachi Gilmore Hall, built in 1937 by the Catholic Diocese on land donated to the church by Malachi Gilmore’s son Joseph, in memory of his father, an Irishman who came to Australia in the 1860s. A successful businessman, Malachi bought the land on which the hall stands in 1864. Intended as a ‘Picture Show and Dance Hall’ for Oberon’s residents it was built in Rationalist Art Deco style by Sydney architects Agabiti & Millane and was, for decades, the hub of Oberon’s community life. In 1987, Betta Wool Handlers bought the Hall and restored it, converting it into a wool store and craft shop. In 2003, the Friends of the Malachi succeeded in obtaining state heritage listing for the hall.
Now privately owned by the East family, the refurbished hall has been about three years in the making, resulting in a “a really beautiful concert hall with the most incredible acoustic and just the right size for chamber music” Jardine continues enthusiastically.
Testing the waters, Jardine organised a launch concert in March 2023 to announce the November festival. Three performers from the festival, Jardine, violist Tobias Breider and cellist Rachel Siu played to a gratifyingly packed house. “Everyone was super- excited that this was starting up in Oberon, because until now there hasn’t been a venue like this in the region. There’s nothing else like it around Oberon. There was a fantastic feeling in the room.”
Not forgetting her commitment to young people, Jardine has invited 450 primary and high school students from Oberon Public School and St Joseph’s Catholic School to attend concerts exclusively for them, on the first afternoon of the festival, a Friday. That day, festival musicians will also play at Oberon’s nursing home and in a free outdoor concert.
Jardine expects that the audience for the inaugural festival will be a mix of locals and visitors to the town, whom she hopes will enjoy the many attractions of the region from accommodation to food and nature. “It’s quite different to the beauty of the Blue Mountains which you must drive through to get to Oberon. Here, there are rolling hills and farmland; it’s very green and especially at this time of the year, there are flowers everywhere. It’s just gorgeous.”
The re-opening of ‘The Malachi’ has created in Oberon, a venue for films and live theatre performances and exhibitions of art amongst a variety of other events. Says co-owner Lucy East, “The ‘Malachi’ is the only dedicated performance space in Oberon and with its reactivation after a 40-year closure, there is lots to catch up on!”
Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©
The performers: Emma Jardine and Emily Long violin, Diana Doherty oboe, Tobias Breider viola, Rachel Siu cello, Kees Boersma double bass, Bernadette Harvey piano, Susannah Lawergren soprano, Peter Jenkin clarinet, Emily Granger harp.