WA’s hard border and the requirement for quarantine have delayed Australian Chamber Orchestra’s return until May next year, missing a planned visit to Vasse Felix winery this year and the Perth Festival in February.
Half of the Sydney-based ensemble’s “national tours” will turn back at the Nullarbor, artistic director Richard Tognetti regrets.
“It’s not our fault, what else can we do,” he said ahead of the ACO season launch this week.
“We’ve already had our performances cancelled from the Perth Festival and the Adelaide Festival. We can get to London, but we’re not allowed to come to WA. We can’t quarantine a whole orchestra for two weeks.”
Season’s highlights such as Piazzolla, from Baroque to the Tango, scheduled for February, and Sketches of Spain — billed as “the borders are open for this rich musical fusion” — won’t be heard at Perth Concert Hall, which Tognetti ruefully describes as “the greatest concert hall on Earth”.
“We’re bringing the smallest group we can in case we get stuck or we have to cancel,” Tognetti said.
A program of Mozart and Britten is scheduled for May, then Bach in June, a regional tour to Karratha, Margaret River and Albany in September, and an American-themed concert in November, all exclusively strings.
“I haven’t seen an oboe or an oboist for two years,” Tognetti said. “Normally, we bring our early instruments from Europe and America, and of course we can’t bring out any international casual orchestral players, we can’t afford the quarantine and they can’t afford the time.
“And we can’t bring players from interstate because of the possibility of quarantine and border closures, and the local orchestras here won’t allow their players to play with us because of scheduling and pandemic issues.
“Because we’re in such a small bubble, we actually can’t access any wind or brass players. Therefore, we’re forced to be original. That’s why you see the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante in an arrangement for strings. And then the Britten Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge is a golden warhorse that we perform.”
Bach is a perennial favourite for string ensembles, with works by various members of the famous family including the best-known JS Bach.
The regional tour is billed as a String Celebration, with works including Handel, Britten and Walton, plus contemporary Australians Carl Vine with Smith’s Alchemy and Perth Festival director Iain Grandage’s Wild Geese, all played by ACO’s emerging musicians.
For the American program in November, Tognetti hopes to bring works by father and son John and Samuel Adams.
“John Adams wrote these wicked dances that we’ve wanted to play for ages and finally we get to program them, and Samuel is writing a new piece which has been delayed because of the situation we find ourselves in,” he said.
“We were going to bring him out last year. So it’s a celebration of American and international music, and of course we have to put the Dvorak ‘American’ String Quartet in there (in an arrangement by Tognetti).”
All that comes with “fingers very tightly crossed”.
“We’re just itching to come,” Tognetti says. “Perth is one of my favourite places in the world.”