Adelaide Festival Review: Musical notes (Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Picaresque and Forces of Nature)

One of the joys of the Adelaide Festival is how over the space of one glorious fortnight Radelaide becomes the epicentre of the performing arts world as national and international acts descend on this city.

This was definitely the case with the 2019 Adelaide Festival’s music program as local legends including Tim Minchin, Richard Tognetti, Robyn Archer and Paul Kelly, shared the bill alongside such international acts as cello superstar Natalie Clein and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, currently regarded as one of the best orchestras in the world.

This orchestra definitely delivered on that hype with their ¬†program one ¬†– Schubert’s Symphony No.3 in D major and Bruckner’s Symphony No.4 in E-flat major – at Adelaide Town Hall.

Comprising of 45 musicians from 20 countries, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra is considered a democratic orchestra, and being no classical music expert (despite my love for it), I did wonder on its chamber label. Thankfully my companion for the evening put me straight, pointing out that any group comprising of less than 50 musicians can be regarded as a chamber ensemble.

Despite their numbers the playing is intimate. It is clear that under the direction of Conductor Laureate Daniel Harding this is a tight knit orchestra.

My overriding sense on listening to both the Schubert and Brucker in performance was one of majesty.¬† The Mahler Chamber Orchestra’s vibrancy, tonality and contrast was just sublime. To me this was simply classical music at their best; a view supported by the enthusiastic and appreciative reaction from the audience at the end of the night.

While the Mahler Chamber Orchestra was bringing international brilliance to Adelaide, our own local legend Robyn Archer was taking us on a magical mystery ride around the world in 60 minutes with the very clever Picaresque.

Against the backdrop of 200 marquettes, collected over 40 years of travels which she describes as evidence of her carbon footprint walk of shame; Archer brilliantly and skilfully reviews her career and travels through song. Virtuoso accordionist George Butrumlis provides wonderful support as the duo literally busk their way through a cardboard world.

The associated exhibition, which also includes other travel memorabilia such as hotel do not disturb signs, airline menus, ticket stubs, and baggage labels; illustrates an extraordinary international cabaret career. It is however her vocal and musical prowess that confirms just what a talent she is as she performs songs from the Great American songbook, Bertolt Brecht, Dean Martin and a yodelling tribute to Mary Schneider. At the show’s core is Archer’s passion for the music. Picaresque is a work from the heart.

Part of Robyn Archer’s minature world, just some of the marquettes that inspired Picaresque

Then there was another National Living Treasure to catch up on – Richard Tognetti. This time joining forces with Erin Helyard to present Forces of Nature. An absolutely wondrous program that featured Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in G major and Violin Sonata in A major, along with Mozart’s Sonata in B-flat major.

Forces of Nature celebrated a pivotal period in chamber musical history as it reflected on a changing era as the Age of Reason, epitomised by Mozart, gave way to the birth of romanticism, embraced by Beethoven. Tognetti on violin and Helyard on fortepiano brilliantly capture the emotion, colour and passion of this important time. The shades of lights and dark in all three pieces were sublimely captured by this duo.

Their explanation of the social mating rituals associated with chamber music provided a wondrously humorous touch to the evening. This was a time when the woman’s place was strictly either playing the piano, the harp or singing, with the violin a male domain until Mozart met Regina Strinasacchi. The sonata in B-flat major was written especially for her. As the notes from this piece wafted through the Adelaide Town Hall, I not only thanked Mozart for overturning musical and social conventions of his time but for the fabulousness that was Tognetti and Helyard with their passion and virtuosity.

Picaresque continues through to Sunday 17 March 2019 at the Banquet Room, Adelaide Festival Centre. For further information on this show and other Adelaide Festival productions visit

About crossbordertales

A former journalist and frustrated author currently working in media and communications based in Adelaide, South Australia. This site is a collection of my writing, the people I have met and photos that have come from living and working in both South Australia and South West Victoria a joy. I hope you enjoy these cross border tales.
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