As part of the celebrations marking their 30th anniversary the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s latest tour introduces three rising stars who weren’t even born when Paul Dyer first brought his band of original instruments together. Where will they take us?

Dyer has an impressive track record for finding new talent: the annual Noel! Noel! concert, which regularly features new faces, has given an early career showcase to Taryn Fiebig, Jane Sheldon and Max Reibl, among others, and in 2016 featured young New Zealand soprano Madison Nonoa. Three years on, Nonoa has moved to London, where she is beginning to build a solid repertoire of operatic roles, and from the evidence of her performances in Sydney last night, singing four Handel arias, her future looks very bright indeed.

Madison Nonoa and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. Photograph © Keith Saunders

Her ‘Da tempeste’ from Julius Caesar revealed a rich and rangy voice under the control of a rock solid technique which made impossible leaps and flourishes seem effortless, while in ‘Let the bright Seraphim’ she had the fire and edge to match Leanne Sullivan’s blazing trumpet obbligato. Nonoa has also mastered that most tricky skill of being silent: the portrayal of her characters’ emotional turmoil within during the instrumental introductions and play outs was a story in itself.

Alongside Nonoa, we also met two young violinists with long and exciting journeys ahead of them. Baroque violinist Annie Gard, originally from Sydney, is a graduate of New York’s Juilliard School and is currently based in Germany, where she plays with some of Europe’s leading early music bands. She joined the Brandenburg ensemble as soloist in Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in G major Op. 9 No 10, RV 300. Her lyrical performance explored subtle, haunting timbres and intense melodic lines melting into air in an understated display of virtuosity. Bach’s Ciaccona from the Partita no 2 for solo violin was a less fortunate choice of repertoire for this artist, overwhelming a fragile voice. Yes, the Ciaccona is notoriously hard, and she tripped over some notes, but Gard’s biggest challenge was perhaps not so much its gruelling technical demands, but the task of walking on to the stage in the wake of the ultimate tough act to follow.

Christian Li and Shaun Lee-Chen. Photograph © Keith Saunders

Christian Li was born in 2007 – yes, 2007! – and began learning the violin at the age of five. In 2018 he made headlines as the youngest ever junior prize-winner of the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition, and this year he made his solo debut with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. It was Li who was tasked with opening Next Generation Baroque, playing Halvorsen’s Passacaglia for Violin and Viola after Handel, alongside the ABO concertmaster Shaun Lee-Chen.

From the moment he ripped into the trenchant opening chords of the Halvorsen it was clear that Li is something rather extraordinary. Indeed, labelling him a ‘child prodigy’ feels inaccurate, underplaying the artistry, technical wizardry and sheer bravado unleashed when he begins to play. It was only when a little grin flicked across his face as he and Lee Chen faced off against each other in a particularly wicked variation that I remembered, with surprise, that he was just a youngster. A tantalising debut for an artist from whom we can expect to hear much, much more.

 Next Generation Baroque plays at Sydney’s City Recital Hall on September 14, 18 and 20, and at Melbourne Recital Hall on September 21 and 22

Subscribe to Limelight