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So far, says Vatche Jambazian, so good. Programming his very first music festival has been fun, the Sydney pianist tells Limelight.

“A lot more fun than I thought it would be, actually. Prior to this, all I had to think about as a pianist was the music I was going to play. Now I’m much more across everything that goes into making that happen.”

Vatche Jambazian. Photo courtesy Omega Ensemble

Well known to Australian audiences as a concert pianist and more recently as Omega Ensemble’s go-to keyboardist, Jambazian is now adding the role of festival director to his resume. The next edition of the Bowral Autumn Music Festival (21–24 March) is all his – an event reflecting his tastes in music, his broad network of contacts and colleagues, and his desire to push the programming envelope.

“Straight away, I could see that the music scene was already popping in Bowral,” Jambazian says. “There are so many professional musicians living in the Southern Highlands, so many schools with excellent music programs, and there’s a long history of music making at the community level. I had my eyes and ears opened even before I started, for sure.”

Returning the favour, Jambazian plans to open the eyes and ears of his audiences with a program that blends the traditional fare of regional music festivals – Gershwin, Beethoven and Bach – with bolder, less well-known works from Australian and international composers including Carl Vine, Ross Edwards and a Jambazian personal favourite – the Hungarian composer György Kurtág.

“Kurtág is someone I love, not just as a composer but as a pianist,” Jambazian says. “I had the good fortune to see him play in New York when I was studying there and he’s just one of the most incredible musicians I’ve ever seen. Watching him play an upright piano was an amazing experience and so I really wanted to program that same piece [Kurtág’s Varga Bálint Ligaturája] as a centrepiece for one of the concerts.”

Titled Ghost, the concert (23 March) will also includes Ross Edwards’s Piano Trio, the Beethoven piano trio that lends the concert its name, and Dvořák’s ‘Dumky’ piano trio.

“Speaking purely selfishly, Ghost is my favourite program,” Jambazian says. “I’ve always wanted to play Ross’s Piano Trio and I’ve had a lot of conversations with him recently about tempos and about the philosophy behind it. Also, his wife Helen loves to remind me that it was written for her. So, no pressure!” Edwards, Jambazian adds, will be in Bowral to give a pre-concert talk.

Another concert Jambazian is particularly fond of is An American in Paris, an evening featuring the all-saxophone Nexas Quartet playing seldom-heard works by Carl Vine, Eugene Bozza, Jean Rivier and Andrew Howes, and some beloved Gershwin classics – with a twist.

Nexas Quartet

Nexas Quartet. Photo © Keith Saunders

“It’s such a fun program,” says Jambazian. “I saw Nexas play Carl Vine’s Sawtooth and I was blown away by it, so that one has been on my wish list for a while. Nexas also has a quartet piece written for Christina Leonard that ended up not being performed, so we’re going to give it a world premiere before we get into the Gershwin, which I think will be a very different experience for the audience when they hear Nexas play it.”

Konstantin Shamray performs during the Southern Cross Soloists' A Moment in Time concert, June 2022. Photo © Darren Thomas Photography.

Konstantin Shamray. Photo © Darren Thomas Photography.

Jambazian has also invited Konstantin Shamray to Bowral for a solo recital of works by Bach, Scriabin, Ligeti and Medtner.

“You don’t hear Bach’s Inventions played that much and Konstantin is ready and able to take it on. I also wanted him to play some of the repertoire he’s really known for – and of course, it’s all the Russians!”

Shamray will also be taking part in Bowral Autumn Music Festival’s two-day education program (21–22 March), alongside Jambazian, cellist Hyung Suk Bae, Orava Quartet’s David Dalseno and Jay Byrnes of Nexas. “I think it’s one of the great things you can do in events like this,” Jambazian says. “The opportunity for young musician to be able to learn from world class artists and talk to them is so important when you are considering entering into the world of professional music.”

Other concerts on the Bowral program include Swoop (21 March), with Orava Quartet playing a program of works by Schulhoff, Haydn, Holly Harrison, Borodin and Kilar. Organist Simon Nieminski will perform a recital in Bowral’s St Jude’s church of organ works by Bach and organ arrangements of works by Rachmaninov, York Bowen and Takashi Sakai (22 March).

Rising Stars (23 March) is devoted to works by Ligeti and Samuel Barber, and Re-inventions (24 March) will showcase the Highlands Music Collective and music by JS Bach and Elena Kats-Chernin.

With the 2024 program nailed down, Jambazian says he’s already thinking about the 2025 edition of the festival. “I’m hoping to expand it even more and include younger artists in the program, the people who are making a splash in their 20s but who are often under-represented the festival context.”

The Bowral Autumn Music Festival, 21–23 March. 

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