Music review: Australian Concerto and Vocal Competition, Townsville Civic Centre

The final gala concerts featured virtuoso performances in both vocal and instrumental categories.

Two recent gala concerts not only showcased the six finalists of the Australian Concerto and Vocal Competition (ACVC) in Townsville, but also gave heart for the future of classical music performance.

Attracting a total of 48 performers to North Queensland, this annual Townsville event was established in 1980, and – apart from three years of cancellation between 2019 and 2021 – has continued to attract classical musicians from all over the world to perform works from concerto and opera repertoires in sections for vocal, instrumental and school ensembles.

Vocal Competition Gala: Friday 21 July

Adjudicator Merlyn Quaife AM looked for a combination of things in the performers, including musicianship, accuracy, rhythm and language, remarking that articulation and enunciation were imperative to good classical performance. For the first time the sizeable prize purse of $7000 was offered to match the instrumental section, which attracted 16 performers from all over Australia.

Oozing confidence, and filling the stage with his presence and a demonstrable stage experience, Brisbane tenor Sebastian Maclaine won the competition with a program that saw him sing in English, German, French and Italian. His arias saw him explore various emotional states from the tenderness of Bernard Herrmann’s ‘Now art thou dear’ from Wuthering Heights, to the solemnity of ‘Lieux funestes’ from Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Dardanus, to the declaration of love at first sight in ‘Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön’ from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, to the final ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ from Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’Amore.

In second place, Oliver Heuzenroeder’s voice was characterised by beautiful resonant tones and a clear diction. Also from Brisbane, he tackled arias by Felix Mendelssohn (‘Gott, sei mir gnadig’ from Paulus), Donizetti (‘Bella siccome un angelo’ from Don Pasquale), Mozart (‘Papagena’ from The Magic Flute) and ‘La Fatigue alourdit mes pas’ from Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas.

Entertainment was the hallmark of Brisbane soprano Jungyoun Lee’s performance in third place. She managed her top notes with confidence and clarity, as well as rising to the challenge of the coloratura gymnastics. She chose four well-known arias – ‘Vissi d’arte’ from Tosca (Giacomo Puccini), ‘Regnava nel silenzio’ from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Vincenzo Bellini’s ‘Ah! Non credea mirarti’ from La Sonnambula, featuring a fine crescendo, and finally ‘Semper libera’ from Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata.  

Instrumental Competition Gala: Sunday 23 July

Adjudicator Richard McIntyre OAM pared down a field of 32 competitors to present the final three, who competed for the $7000 total prize. The finalists saw a diversity of performance ranging from violin technique, which ran the gamut of expertise, to a youthful performer who made her cello sing to the dominant strength and power of the piano.

Winner of the competition was Sydney-based pianist Nicholas Kennedy, giving a stirring, magnetic and powerful performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 5 in E-flat Major, otherwise known as the Emperor Concerto. He filled the space with a quirky stage presence, giving a performance that was at once expressive, emotional and physical. His keyboard gymnastics were bold and broad one minute and exquisitely delicate the next, and at all times were infused with an emotion that carried into every muscle of his body. Part of his $4000 prize is a greatly anticipated return performance in 2024 with Townsville’s Barrier Reef Orchestra.

Read: Theatre review: Garage Girls, La Mama Courthouse

In second place was Sydney violinist Robert Smith, whose performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major drew loud appreciation from the audience. One of the best-known of all violin concertos, it is also one of the most notoriously difficult and Smith showed immense dexterity, precision and aptitude for the demanding concerto that clearly demonstrated his technical brilliance. 

However, the surprise of the evening was third-placed cellist Jiyou Park from Brisbane who demonstrated a technique, performance and maturity way beyond her years in her rendition of Camille Saint-Saens’ Cello Concerto No 1 in A Minor. This was a soul journey for this slight 11-year-old who gave an animated committed performance, which made her instrument sing with clarity.

Vocal Gala Performance was held on 21 July 2023.
Instrumental Gala Performance was held on 23 July 2023,

Townsville Civic Theatre.

Trevor Keeling has been involved in the arts and creative industries for 40 years in Australia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. He has been an actor, theatre director, journalist and critic, publisher, broadcaster, music festival director, event manager and arts administrator. Since coming to Australia in 1991, he appeared in numerous productions in Adelaide, and was Festival Director of the Glenelg Jazz Festival for six years. He was General Manager of Dancenorth in Townsville (2005-2006 and 2011-2014) and for three years was CEO of Mirndiyan Gunana Aboriginal Corporation, which included managing the world-renowned Indigenous Mornington Island Dancers. He has worked in urban, regional and remote environments in Australia and has a particular focus on regional arts and the connection to community.