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“…take a few days of your life and absorb yourself in the world of musicians and their music-making…” Bob Roberts. Founder, Huntington Estate.
Bob Roberts wrote “I certainly had no inkling that our first “Music in the Winery” held in 1980 would or could develop into what it is today – the Huntington Music Festival.
It started on a Saturday night in October, with a group of young musicians from the ABC Sinfonia playing quartets and trios, some friends and Huntington wine patrons numbering one hundred. A sit-down dinner featured especially prepared local spring lamb, slow open-pit roasted, basted in salt, herbs and garlic, accompanied by asparagus picked that morning. The golden half-lambs were placed along the centre of the tables on white towelling; the guests were told to each bring a knife and they carved for themselves. The musicians were, of course, placed amongst the audience at the tables. We all had such a good time… that we just had to do it again.
Richard Tognetti returned from studying in Switzerland in 1989 and suggested the present format – eight concerts, one in the day and one at night, with the same audience, over four days. He and the Australian Chamber Orchestra would be the centrepiece… We were certain that the music would be marvellous… but would anyone come? ...We needn’t have worried – the response to our mailing list invitations was so overwhelming that we created the Prelude Weekend concerts to avoid disappointing so many people.”
The Festival flourished under the charismatic, bold and personal leadership of Bob Roberts and Richard Tognetti, delighting critics, audiences and musicians (Yvonne Kenny declared that she’d rather play Huntington than La Scala or any of the great Opera Houses of the world). Some of the best musicians in the world have trodden the stage made of upturned wine crates and pallets. Tognetti wrote “People can travel at Huntington, travel across boundaries and be surprised with the implausible combinations of performers and music”.
In 2006, Tim Stevens and Musica Viva took over the mantle, determined to build on the foundation laid by the Roberts family, Richard Tognetti and the ACO, but also to evolve the event to secure its position at the pinnacle of Chamber Music Festivals in the 21st Century (mission accomplished said Emma Ayres in 2012, describing Huntington Estate as “one of the best chamber music festivals in the world”).
The programming under Carl Vine and Musica Viva focusses entirely on Chamber Music and her musicians, but is equally committed to the notion that a Festival must challenge the audience with new and different music alongside the presentation of the “classics”. The international focus is a key pillar of the Festival, bringing the finest global musicians to Mudgee to play with their Australian counterparts; as is the variety of music presented - within each year and from year to year.
“Brilliant musicians, wonderful old music, scintillating new music, and a glass or two of fine wine. This could catch on!” Carl Vine, Artistic Director.
Nicky Stevens attended her first Festival in 2007. In 2008, having moved to Australia from London a few weeks earlier to be with Tim, and in the knowledge that she would be responsible for the 2009 event, she conducted a customer survey to help form a plan. Having survived the audience backlash (lynch mobs were formed) over an “Un-Huntington” question about A-Reserve seating, set about making some tweaks to enhance the Festival experience, leaving Musica Viva and Carl to continue to work their magic with the music.
Changes to the format begin at ticketing, where loyalty is rewarded and while the ghastly phone-in scrum remains necessary (sorry), previous year’s attendees are at least guaranteed a seat, with first-in-best-dressed dictating the rest. We no longer make you stand to eat, or play musical chairs with fewer tables than people. Coffee is freshly made in plungers not boiled to death in urns, juice comes in flavours other than orange and water is fizzy as well as still… Loos are plentiful, the divine Sarah Ferris makes the place look magical every year, the air conditioner makes the hall bearable in the heat and and our wet weather contingency with marquees allows the audience to enjoy the full Festival experience whatever the weather. Let us know what other little things we can do better via the suggestions box in the Cellar Door.
“Noise is a health and safety issue at Huntington. This is because if you make too much of it during a concert Bob Roberts may kill you.” The Kitchen Manual
For the first years of the Huntington Music Festival, Irene Tognetti (mother of Richard) catered for the visitors that attended. With a hose and bucket for a sink, and makeshift coolers, Irene and her team managed to serve great food.
Leading players in the Australian food industry have contributed to the great food at Huntington.
Peter Howard 1989 – 1999 “It was in the kitchens at Huntington that we started to declare some of our dishes “regional” food. This movement is now Australia-wide… I can still see Bob falling over with laughter when I said I would do the food if I could do regional food.”
Michael Manners has been a regular in the Festival kitchens.
Kim Currie 1994-2008 “When Pete Howard first asked me to partner him on the Festival I said primly “I’m not sure I’m prepared to compromise my standards in order to mass produce food.” Luckily Pete just sucked in his breath, bit his tongue and got on with the task of whipping me into shape.” Kim’s latest culinary venture “The Zin House”, is open at weekends on Tinja Lane, Mudgee.
Edwena Mitchell, 2009 – 2016 possessor of the finest pair of pins west of Sydney and with a bark that is definitely worse than her bite has proven to be a wonderful addition to the team. Improvisation and creativity continue to rule the day, in makeshift kitchens under the crusher awning, utilising pallets of bottles and wine crates for walls, shelving and bench-tops and shipping containers as cool rooms. Philosophically aligned with her predecessors, Edwena believes in seasonal first, local second and fresh is best. Everything is hand-made by the staff with nothing pre-packaged or frozen. Her big flavours in elegant combinations are perfect Festival fare and defy “mass catering” constraints.
The 2013 Huntington Estate Music Festival
The 24th Huntington Estate Music Festival took place on 20-24 November 2013 and featured an amazing collection of wonderful musicians from around the world.
From the UK we welcomed the Doric String Quartet, praised by the Financial Times (UK) for their ‘subtle lyricism and perfect matching of colour and phrasing’. This was the group's Australian debut performance.
Freddy Kempf brought his magical pianism to the grand intimacy of the Barrel Room.
Usually found in the great concert halls of Europe and the USA, this London-born musical wizard’s performances was a highlight of 2013.
As BBC Music Magazine put it, ‘Wonderful delicate playing and a fine sense of style’. Renowned tenor Andrew Goodwin made a most welcome return to Mudgee, alongside his regular recital partner and fellow St Petersburg Conservatory graduate (and Young Concert Artists Trust alumnus),Daniel de Borah. ‘Magnificent…flawless control… crystal clear tone…’ - CityNews on Andrew Goodwin. ‘I was immediately impressed by his pianism, his musicianship and his ability to draw the listener into his musical world.’ - Stephen Hough on Daniel de Borah.
We were lucky to include Ramon Ortega Quero in the line-up, a dazzling, prize-winning young oboe player from Spain, and as always, we were fortunate to draw on a dazzling constellation of fine Australian string players.
The 2013 festival included violinists Paul Wright, Elizabeth Sellars and Sophie Rowell, violist Sally Boud, cellist Rachel Johnston and bassist Andrew Meisel. It wouldn’t be Huntington without at least three of the Goldner Quartet in attendance: Dimity Hall, Irina Morozova and Julian Smiles.
The 2012 Festival revealed the talents of the young ANAM chamber orchestra; 2013 presented the Academy’s wonderful Director: leading clarinettist, ‘the excellent Paul Dean’ (Sunday Times UK). Paul was joined in the woodwind department by Emma Sholl, the highly talented Associate Principal of the Sydney Symphony.
Pianist Ian Munro is always a popular figure at the Festival: ‘a flawless interpreter, his playing full of imaginative colour and supple elegance’ (The Australian). 2013 also featured him as a composer, with the world premiere of his new Piano Trio, commissioned by longstanding Huntington attendees John and Jo Strutt.
Further keyboard power was provided by one of Melbourne’s brightest rising stars, Hoang Pham, fresh from postgraduate studies in the US and making his Huntington debut. Tim Buzbee took the flag as Huntington's first ever Tuba soloist, acclaimed by Fanfare magazine as "a fine musician who can make his tuba variously sing like a violin and bark like an angered dog ... His sense of phrasing is as astonishing as his tone colouring". His wife Jessica Buzbee was another fresh new face at Huntington, an extraordinary prize-winning Nordic trombonist who has performed all over the world.
Low brass tones rumbled around the glorious acoustic of the Huntington's Barrel Room.
The 2012 Huntington Estate Music Festival
The 23rd Huntington Estate Music Festival took place on 21-25 November 2012, and was a classic vintage, bringing together a stellar collection of 34 brilliant artists from all over the world,
in unique and brilliant combinations. But don't just take our word for it: "world-class chamber music festival" Limelight Magazine, January 2013 "if you believe in heaven it might just look a little like Huntington" ABC Classic FM, November 2012
And view some photos of 2012 by Amber Hooper.
One of the world’s great violinists, Anthony Marwood “he’s a magic name in the business” (The Independent, UK); “superb…astounding” (The Boston Globe); “beautifully intelligent…compelling” (Sydney Morning Herald) graced the stage with unique repertoire - in a concerto, in sonatas and leading the Chamber Orchestra comprising the finest string players of ANAM, Australia’s musical ‘finishing school’, whose ranks were swelled by renowned cellist (and ANAM tutor) Howard Penny.
Serbian pianist Aleksandar Madžar “daring, tactile, sinewy…playing of this quality, without ego or indulgence remains rare…seek him out.” (The Guardian, UK)”, made his Huntington debut alongside some fabulous artists from New York: the acclaimed pianist and former Sydneysider Andrea Lam “melting lyricism, filigree touch and spirited eloquence” (The Australian) “…real talent” (Wall Street Journal)”, and the extraordinary and energetic Grammy Nominees Enso Quartet “…filled the Coolidge Auditorium with glorious sonorities, whatever they were playing.” (The Washington Post).
From closer to home, Jose Carreras' favourite mezzo-soprano, Perth-based Fiona Campbell "a strong, brilliant and stunning sound"(Sydney Morning Herald), "richly coloured and beautifully shaped..." (The Australian) provided our vocal component for 2012.
In a year featuring many first-time and overseas visitors to Huntington, Ian Munro made a welcome return; and the exciting new line-up of the Australian String Quartet made its first collective Festival appearance. The brilliant 20-year-old Armenian Clarinetist, Narek Arutyunian "...passionate depths with seemingly effortless technical prowess, beguiling sensitivity and an energetic stage presence" (The Washington Post) completed the wonderful line-up for 2012. Winner of the 2010 Young Concert Artists Award (previous winners include Ray Chen and the Tokyo String Quartet) amongst a fistful of other prizes, Narek joined us direct from New York.
The 2011 Huntington Estate Music Festival
The 22nd Huntington Estate Music Festival was held on 23-27 November 2011.
We were joined by one of the world's most charismatic baritones, Thomas Meglioranza, a New York artist acclaimed for his "vocal distinction and expressive warmth" (The Boston Globe) and the dynamic young British virtuoso cellist, Guy Johnston "remarkable by any standard... an exceptionally sensitive musician" (The Sunday Telegraph).
That exquisite jewel of Australian choral music, the 12-voice Adelaide Chamber Singers directed by Carl Crossin, made a rare east-coast appearance.
There were the great players of the Modigliani String Quartet "...gripping and persuasive...awesome individual and communal brilliance" (The Strad) plus the four wonderful women of the Australian String Quartet in their very final performance in this line-up.
Three brilliant pianists made a welcome return - Caroline Almonte, Kristian Chong and Bernadette Harvey.
There were plenty of other exciting artists as well - more than 30 in total. The repertoire was as wonderful and surprising as usual, spanning 400 years of the master composers of classical music.
Roger Covell wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald "...sensitive balance with which the 2011 Festival has brought together new, favourite and little-known older chamber works and given singing voices the consistently prominent place they deserve." (November 29th 2011)
To read the full review, click on the link here
The 2010 Huntington Estate Music Festival
The 21st Huntington Estate Music Festival was held in Mudgee on 24-28 November 2010, and was pronounced one of the best in 21 years by audience members who've been with us since the beginning!
Air conditioning in the Barrel Hall, an outdoor bar, beautiful decorations and plentiful tables in the winery grounds and excellent and abundant food and wine enhanced the outstanding music, and Mudgee put on it's loveliest spring weather.
Thirty-four magnificent musicians performed a massively varied program in the 2010 festival. Accclaimed soprano Amelia Farrugia, fresh from her success in the title role of Opera Australia's Manon was at Huntington for the first time. The 15 talented musicians of the Australian National Academy of Music Chamber Orchestra brought their vibrant youthful energy to works for string orchestra.
Ray Chen, a brilliant young violinist of Taiwanese descent and First Prize Winner of the 2009 Queen Elizabeth International Violin Competition in Belgium was joined by pianist John Chen, winner of the 2004 Sydney International Piano Competition.
The award winning Atos Trio from Germany also made their Huntington debut, while the much loved Goldner Quartet and Ian Munro (as both pianist and composer) returned once more.
The 2009 Huntington Estate Music Festival
The 2009 Festival was described by audience members as "a lifetime joy" and "heaven" for the "best performances and artists ever".
"A long life for the second version of the 20 year-old Huntington Estate Music Festival... seems assured by the size of this year's gathering...and the performances of masterly works...warranted their (the audience's) numbers and enthusiasm" Roger Covell, Sydney Morning Herald (Friday, 27th November 2009) For images of the 2009 Festival, visit the Photo Gallery.
The 2008 Huntington Estate Music Festival
The highlights of the 2008 festival were the peerless European period music sensation Hesperion XXI and brilliant Polish pianist Ewa Kupiec.
The phenomenal Pavel Haas Quartet from the Czech Republic joined local groups the Goldner and TinAlley string quartets, supported in turn by Australian pianists Ian Munro and Raymond Yong. The festival also featured the world premiere of String Quartet no 1 by Sydney composer Paul Stanhope.
The 2007 Huntington Estate Music Festival
Matthew Westwood, The Australian, 3 December 2007: "The convivial atmosphere of music-making, food and company..."
Roger Covell, Sydney Morning Herald, December 2007: "Cicadas supplying a distant, softly pulsing undertone to string quartets and a blue-faced honeyeater …".
Older History of the Huntington Estate Music Festival
'...Take a few days out of your life to absorb yourself in the world of musicians and their music making.' Bob Roberts
The Roberts family had no idea that their first "music in the winery" would develop into what it is today - The Huntington Estate Music Festival.
'...It started on a Saturday night in October with a group of young musicians from the ABC Sinfonia playing Quartets and Trios, some friends and Huntington wine patrons numbering one hundred. A sit down dinner featured especially prepared local spring lamb, slow open pit roasted , basted in salt, herbs and garlic, accompanied by asparagus picked that morning. The golden half lambs were placed along the centre of the tables on white towelling; the guests were told to each bring a knife and they carved for themselves. The musicians were of course placed amongst the audience at the tables. We had such a good time, in every way that we just had to do it again.' Bob Roberts.
Richard Tognetti had formed the Huntington Chamber Orchestra whilst at the Sydney Conservatorium and had performed previous winery concerts. Everyone was well aware of the stunning power of an orchestra in the winery but Bob and Wendy Roberts couldn't help but wonder if anyone would come?
Twenty years on the Huntington Estate Music Festival is a much loved and highly respected event on the Australian and international music calendars. Over the years the winery has welcomed musicians and guests from all over the world and played to sell-out audiences year after year.
Tim Stevens, the new owner and winemaker of Huntington Estate, was enthusiastic to carry on every aspect of the Huntington Estate Music Festival and so, starting in 2006 under the direction of Carl Vine and Musica Viva, Huntington Estate continued to welcome exceptional musicians from Australia and overseas to the winery. The new incarnation of the festival has been met with rave reviews from the guests, the media and most importantly, from the Roberts family.