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Feel the music: Canberra International Music Festival 2016

Anna Riddel

If, late in April and into May, you think you hear something… something beautiful or other worldly, music that makes you stop and listen, you may have stumbled upon this year’s Canberra International Music Festival.

In fact, it will be hard not to uncover the beautiful sounds this autumn; the music will be filling many a nook and cranny in our glorious city, you just need to find the right door – or garden.

This year, from Thursday 28 April until Sunday 8 May you are in for a musical treat. In its twenty-second year, The Canberra International Music Festival has grown into something of a national gem. Transforming unique spaces into lairs of song and attracting world class acts from across the globe – there really is something for everyone.

From our own national treasure Katie Noonan, playing with the perpetually intrepid Brodsky Quartet; to Marco Beasley, the modern Italian bard, telling stories through song by candlelight; to swoon-worthy Spanish trio Fandango; and percussion group Tambuco,whose music Bond fans will recognise, as they are featured in the 2015 James Bond film Spectre, playing the opening track.

José María Gallardo del Rey

José María Gallardo del Rey

There is a chocolate concert for Mother’s Day (and yes, it does include actual chocolate!), a concert specially written for children, The Ear of The Cat (originating in Cairo, this is a story about cats, video games and kings eating soup); concerts at sites such as the Nishi Building, the National Gallery of Australia, a Poachers Pantry excursion; artist meet and greet sessions at The Ainslie Arts Centre; light installations; Vivaldi to Rossini; a Festival Feast, with Chefs of Canberra cooking up a storm for an incredible evening of gourmet food and music. Whoa! let me catch my breath.

Every concert I read through I just had to research further, the world’s best musicians are coming to Canberra and I cannot recommend highly enough that you see a concert – any concert really. But let me break it down for you because this is not something you want to miss, whether you are a music lover or want to venture into something different for the first time, or have a child learning an instrument – these are some of the best players in the world, take your child along to see what can be done with their instrument.

Here are my top five at this year’s festival – but please explore the full program, it’s jam-packed!

For the seekers of exquisite music

The Brodsky Quartet & Katie Noonan

Katie Noonan

I love love love this collaboration – The Brodsky Quartet have re-invented the modern string quartet through working with Elvis Costello and Björk, and now they are teaming up with our own songbird – the exquisite Katie Noonan. I once saw Ms Noonan perform in a run down warehouse in Sydney where the line stretched five levels down around the derelict stairwell that wrapped itself around the crumbling elevator shaft, and out onto Elizabeth Street.

You had to know someone who knew someone to know where you were going – let alone to know the concert was taking place. We sat on cushions and she enchanted us for hours. The Fitter’s Workshop reminds me of this type of setting and is the perfect stage for this group who together are re–imagining the words of Judith Wright – if you see nothing else this festival, see this.

Saturday 30 April, 6pm, The Fitter’s Workshop, $65/$70. Click here for more details. 


“His sweet and resonant voice alone held the audience enchanted for the magical hour”  (Volkskrant, Amsterdam) Make no mistake, this will be a magical night. I’m envisaging it to be like when I was a kid and we had black outs on the farm, that dark kind of stillness that would be filled with imagination and wonder.  With a red cloth and a candlestick, A Midnight Tale – Il racconto di mezzanotte –  is told by Marco Beasley with no accompaniment other than flickering candle light, a book of tales in his hand and the imagination of you, the audience. Here is a modern bard who sings ancient stories deep into the night…

Saturday April 30, 9.30-10.30pm – The Fitters’ Workshop, Adult: $65.00, Concession: $60.00, Child: $25.00, Student Rush: $25.00. Click here for more details. 

For the foodies

What better way to enjoy some music at this years’ festival than to pair it with some exquisite cuisine? For two events this year, you won’t just be matching your wine to your meal, but to the concert playing for you.

Chefs of Canberra: Festival Gala Dinner is being held on Thursday 28 April from 6:30 – 11pm at the National Arboretum. Come and enjoy Canberra’s classy cuisine with chefs Sean McConnell and Dan Flatt from Monster and John Leverink from the Boathouse by the Lake and Podfood, and F.J. Bodel from the Conservatory.

On the music menu for the evening will be Barranco, a piece for 4 Peruvian cajones by the divine James Crabb on accordion, Andrey Lebedev on guitar and Tambuco Percusion, all paired perfectly with this festival meal.

Thursday 28 April, the National Arboretum, Tickets: $200* can be purchased here

The Poachers Way Festival Trip will take place on Thursday 5 May and take you around Canberra to eat and drink – and the musicians will follow you around and play for you! This truly special day departs at 9am from Canberra and returns around 3:30pm. You will be taken to Bungendore Wood Works Gallery, for some craftsmanship, coffee and music, followed by Eden Roads Wines (wine, more music), and finally Poachers Pantry (more wine, more music, two courses of scrumptious food).

Thursday 5 May from 9am. Various locations. Tickets: $120* can be purchased here

Andrey Lebedev

Andrey Lebedev

Twilight – Music and Light

This is an incredibly exciting addition to this year’s festival.

At The Fitter’s Workshop, Artist-in-Residence Mary-Anne Kyriakou is re-creating her original light through an oil lamp installation – inspired from the idea that when Colombus discovered the new world across the Atlantic, it was thought that the light across the empire would never fade. To complete the magical light that will transform the space there are several of my favourites all playing at this special concert.

It will be the last chance to see the exquisite Zapico brothers that make up the band Forma Antiqva, along with star guitarists (Canberra’s own Andrey Lebedev – winner of the Adelaide International Guitar competition, and currently at the Royal Academy of Music in London) as well as international phenomenon José María Gallardo del Rey and finally one of my favourite Saxophone group s from Sydney, the divine Continuum Sax. This will be a concert that will truly transpoty you to another world, with ancient dances from Spain through to Granadas and Sciarrino.

Saturday May 7, 5:30 – 6:45pm, The Fitter’s Workshop. Tickets: from $25 -$55. Click here for more information. 

For the family

There are a few particularly family friendly events on this festival, the following should please mum and dad and kids alike!

Ear of the Cat

Magic for the young and young at heart. This new children’s project by Michael Sollis and Cathy Petocz found its origins on the streets of Cairo. Working with children from Cairo and Canberra, Sollis and Petocz have created a brand new show about cats, magical keys, video games, and a green soup eaten by ancient kings.


  • Saturday 30 April at 10.00am
  • Sunday 1 May at 10.00am
  • Sunday 1 May at 2.00pm

Adults $25; children (3-12years) $15

Various times, Ainslie Arts Centre, 30 Eloura Street, Braddon. Click here to purchase tickets. 

For Mother’s Day

The sound and taste of chocolate

Say thank you and spoil your mum at our special Mothers’ Day concert, complete with chocolate tastings and musical swoon numbers by Bach, Franck, Massenet and Tchaikovsky, before Tobias Cole, disguised as Willy Wonka takes you right into the chocolate factory.

Tobias Cole, Children’s Choirs, Anna McMichael, Alice Giles and Festival Young Artists.

Sunday May 8 from 11:00am 12:30pm, The Fitters’ Workshop, 11 Wentworth Ave Kingston, All tickets $25, click here to purchase. 

(c)2005 Nick Adams

(c)2005 Nick Adams

For the explorers – Sounds on Site Concerts 

Every day from Monday to Friday 2 – 6 May, go exploring to find a different concert each day somewhere unexpected! From the Nishi building, to the High Court of Australia, the Sculpture Garden, the NGA, the National Portrait Gallery, to the Australian National Botanical Gardens. Treat yourself to go and find a musical treasure at one of our cities treasured buildings and gardens.

My pick is on Tuesday May 3 from 12:30 – 2pm, at the Nishi Building, so head along in your lunch hour to see a musical smorgasbord of cutting edge virtuosity in the equally cutting edge building (that has stunning acoustics, by the way).

The artists Alice Giles, Rupert Boyd and others will be joined by Tambuco for a program of French string elegance.

Nishi Building, 25 Edinburgh Avenue, NewActon. Adult: $55.00, Concession: $50.00, Under 30: $35.00, Child: $25.00, Student Rush: $25.00, click here to purchase tickets. 

So wherever your ears take you this autumn, enjoy!

*Tickets to these events must be bought by 21 April. Click here to purchase tickets. 

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Anna Riddel

Anna Riddel is a singer, director, keynote speaker and a passionate teacher. In 2012, her song Breathe, received a runner up position in the USA International Song Of The Year Songwriting Contest. Anna is currently a Voice tutor at NIDA, as well as a tutor in Music Pedagogy at UNSW. Her company Speak Don’t Talk consults on voice and communication across a range of industries. Anna is an avid Brumbies fan and a self professed coffee snob. Follow her on twitter @annariddel More about the Author

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