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Let the music play

Co-artistic director and violinist Wilma Smith said one of her highlights of this year’s festival programme is the Amy Beach flute and string quartet. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

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Among the many covid-19 event casualties, one festival is ploughing ahead to provide a classical diversion for the masses.

The Martinborough Music Festival will take place at the Martinborough Town Hall from October 29-31, despite alert level 2 restrictions.

The festival will showcase the works of Ravel, Stravinsky, Beethoven, and other composers, while also featuring some of New Zealand’s best musicians.

Festival board member Sharon Cuzens said the original release of tickets – aimed at a level 1 festival in mid-September – had sold out quickly.

However, after the lockdown, some ticket holders had relinquished their tickets, meaning numbers were now at a level that could accommodate social distancing.

“We now have the numbers at a level where we can operate under level 2 conditions, without having to repeat concerts,” Cuzens said.

Numbers at each of the four concerts would range from 130-145 attendees, with bubbles separated from each other.

Some ticket holders who could not make the new dates had donated the cost back to the festival, which operated as a charitable trust.

“That’s much appreciated, as it’s not an easy task to put on a festival like this,” Cuzens said.

Violinist and co-artistic director Wilma Smith had her work cut out for her, juggling her own performance and practice schedule while also booking and co-ordinating the festival’s musicians.

Travel restrictions meant the festival needed to find replacements for three Australian musicians. Smith was lucky to get back to New Zealand from Melbourne in the week’s grace period before the borders with Australia closed in July.

“Because we lost those musicians, and because we had to change the dates due to covid, there was a heap of extra admin,” Smith said. “But we’re really pleased that we’ve managed to get great local replacements for the three Aussies and that we were able to keep all the music intact.”

Cellist Matthias Balzat, who had played at previous festivals, could not make this year’s rescheduled dates because he was playing in the Royal Over-Seas League music competition in London. On October 5, he won the strings section final, putting him through to the gold medal final on November 24.

“That compensates him for missing out on the festival,” Smith said. “We’re very excited as a whole festival family, even though we will miss him.”

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra principal cellist Andrew Joyce would join the festival in Balzat’s place.

“It’s not hard to find people willing to do it,” Smith said. “The tricky part is getting their availability in amongst whatever else they’re doing at the time.”

Another New Zealand cellist, Alexandra Partridge, was on the same flight back from Melbourne as Smith – one of the last flights available before borders with Australia closed.

“It’s worked out really well – we’re very happy with our line-up. There’s a lot of depth of talent in New Zealand and we’ve managed to get the best.”

Smith said organising rehearsals to fit the moving dates and line-up had been difficult. However, she was sure the musicians would rise to the challenge.

“There are only limited numbers of hours that we can get everyone together at the same time, so we have to be very clever about how we rehearse… It’s not a lot of time, but these are professionals at the top of their game. They’re used to working quickly and efficiently. It works.”

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