Four Winds History

sketch of four winds stage site

At the beginning of the 1990s a group of friends who shared interests in fine music and the wonderful local scenery around Bermagui had the idea of arranging concerts in the open air. These friends – Michael and Judith Brimer, Sheena Boughen, Bill Caldicott, John and Zoe Ellingworth, Neilma Gantner, and Rodney and Beth Hall – were later joined by John Cooper and Geoff Hammond to form the first committee.

Architect Hans Hallen was asked to consider the concert potential of a hillside, sloping down to a small lake and surrounded by tall trees.

Initially three grassed terraces were built facing the lake, and a small stage, with a plywood sound reflector. With very little environmental impact, a natural amphitheatre had been prepared for its musical baptism on 7 April 1991.

This first concert was opened by actress Patricia Kennedy reciting poetry, accompanied as she told of Korean birds by a flight of ducks descending on the lake behind her, to the delighted applause of an audience of about two hundred.

Michael Brimer – who with his wife Judith was to figure prominently in production of the early concerts – coaxed a gritty keyboard through a program of Chopin, Liszt and Clementi, and accompanied Rita Hunter in operatic arias and songs.

early days at the Four Winds site

Following this successful rehearsal concert, a committee was formed to produce and develop what soon became known as the Four Winds. In 1992 it was already a two day event, with morning and afternoon concerts on Saturday and Sunday.

The stage was enlarged for the 1993 concerts, partially surrounded by a moat, and a backdrop of perspex added to provide sound reflection and wind protection without interrupting the lake views from an increasing number of terraces. That year La Romanesca delighted audiences with some fifteenth century Spanish music, a team of pianists led by Max Cooke played Chopin and Mozart, and the Monash University Gamelan's bronze gongs, chimes and drums added an exotic touch.

By the mid-1990s, Four Winds had established a reputation for diversity and excellence - with performers as varied as Tom E. Lewis and Chris Young on didgeridoo and clarinet, Riley Lee on shakuhachi, the Senarius Saxophone Quartet and the Goldner String quartet. A very welcome feature of Four Winds from the early 1990s has been the inclusion of music from many non-Western cultures in Asia, Africa and South America.

The Festivals have been notable for virtuoso performances of major works by pianists Michael Brimer, Michael Kieran Harvey, Geoffrey Tozer and Bernadette Harvey Bolkus, and for beautiful chamber music by groups like the Macquarie Trio, the Baermann Trio and the Goldner String Quartet. In 2002 the Australian String Quartet combined with Slava Grigoryan and Michael Kieran Harvey respectively in marvellous performances of the Castelnuovo-Tedesco and the Shostakovich quintets, as well as playing quartets by Haydn and Borodin.

quartet - bassoon, clarinet, piano

While most of the Festivals showcase Australian talent, from time to time international musicians add a further spice to the concerts. Amanda McBroom provided a notable finale to the 1996 Festival singing her hit song, The Rose.

The 1997 Festival starred harmonica player Larry Adler, whose performance was deliciously salted with showbiz jokes and spontaneous asides. One of his items included a moving pianola accompaniment to his mouth organ, in tribute to George Gershwin whose playing was recorded on the piano roll. Incidentally, an errant Four Winds frog, whose variations on the beat drew a sharp comment from Larry Adler in 1997, was finally got into time in 2002 by the Australian String Quartet.

Appearing again for the special tenth anniversary Festival in 2000, Patricia Kennedy and Michael Brimer provided a much appreciated link to the 1991 foundation concert.

Yukiko Kikuto and Andrew MacGregor

In 2002, the Festival opened on Easter Friday evening with a special event – Lewis Fiander and Rodney Hall in a dramatised reading of Rodney's play, A Return to the Brink.

In another addition to the usual program, Yukiko Kikuto and Andrew MacGregor played on koto and shakuhachi among the spotted gums after the Saturday evening Festival Feast. Local Bermagui resident and international cabaret jazz singer Madam Pat Thompson, performing with her Orkestra, brought the Festival to a close and the audience to a triple standing ovation on Sunday afternoon.

The 2004 Festival contained an exciting program of great variety and drama, with some of the very best Australian musicians, some well established nationally and internationally, and some at a comparatively early stage in their careers.

taiko drummer

Baroque works for the recorder, harpsichord and cello were performed by Genevieve Lacey, Paul Dyer and Jamie Hey; Ravel and Beethoven string quartets played by the Flinders Quartet and piano works by Brahms, Beethoven and Liszt were refreshed for listeners by the young Ukrainian born Aleksey Koltakov

Interspersed with these brackets were exhilarating and dramatic performances by TaikOz (drummers) with Riley Lee (shakuhachi) which combined the awesome power of the traditional Japanese Taiko with the ethereal tones of the bamboo shakuhachi. TaikOz explored a synthesis of East and West, old and new.

These Australian performances were complemented by two performers from the USA. Amanda McBroom (singer) and Joel Silberman (piano) offered songs on the glory of love and songs by Brel, Gershwin, Rogers and Hart.

audience 2006

In 2006, our young and talented new Artistic Director Christopher Latham wove a spectrum of musical colour, bringing together new combinations of musicians including a Four Winds String Quartet and a Four Winds Philharmonia combining piano, strings, wind, brass, percussion and didjeridu.

A free welcome concert, Bach by the Beach, opened the Festival. Other delights included a gala cabaret evening with Madam Pat Thompson and the Rag Tag Jazz Band, a sculpture exhibition and the presentation of the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards.

Four Winds was privileged to present at the 2006 Festival three of the world's most distinguished composers – Ross Edwards and Elena Kats-Chernin, and from the United States Terry Riley, one of music's great innovators and the father of minimalism.

night feast 2006

And, in an exciting first for Four Winds, several première performances were witnessed.

For our thirteenth festival we offered you a unique journey – through surprise, wonder, excitement, adventure, fun and serenity. 2006 was a synaesthetic festival, where you were likely to hear a colour, where there was an interweaving of music with colour, words, ideas and art.

The 2008 Festival brought harmony between musical cultures to inspire and soothe the spirit. Who would have thought that the great Turkish-American musician, Omar Faruk Tekbilek would head to beautiful Bermagui to play his energetic and haunting music? We were also thrilled to have Living National Treasure Peter Sculthorpe as our guest of honour.

Omar Faruk Tekbilek

For the first time there was a spectacular opening concert and it was free. The weekend saw a brand new arrangement of Vivaldi's much loved Four Seasons and Mina Kanaridis's soaring soprana treated us to Bach, Mozart and Handel. You had to be there to experience the sublime Peter Sculthorpe's Cello Dreaming with the brilliant cellist Emma-Jane Murphy and William Barton on didjeridu in the Four Winds amphitheatre.

The exhilarating rhythm of TaikOz's drumming has become a feature of Four Winds, returning yet again with an epic collaboration with Synergy presenting The Five Elements.

Review the programs for our 2010 and 2012 Festivals, which just got bigger and better, especially with the establishment of the permanent Sound Shell.