Orpheus Island concert with William Barton captivates Australian Chamber Music Festival

It’s far from a traditional stage, but the secluded paradise of a North Queensland island provided the perfect backdrop for a unique musical celebration.

Audience members took a two-hour boat ride from Townsville to catch the intimate concert on the island of Orpheus headlined by didgeridoo master William Barton.

“As someone who travels the world, coming home to our country and our islands is a beautiful thing,” Barton said.

William Barton says nothing beats performing in Australia’s natural environments.(ABC North Qld: Lily Nothling)

The Kalkadunga man of Mount Isa has taken his art to some of the world’s most prestigious stages, but said “nothing beats” performing in Australia’s natural landscapes.

“It’s always special because that’s where the country’s language comes from, that’s where the songs go through you,” he said.

“In Australia, we have these beautiful natural amphitheatres, or outdoor spaces, that resonate.”

People cross a long bridge to arrive on a sandy beach
Orpheus Island is two hours by boat from Townsville.(ABC North Qld: Lily Nothling)

The Orpheus Island concert was one of the main highlights of this year’s Australian Chamber Music Festival and drew crowds from across the country.

Executive director Ricardo Peach said he hopes the tropical showcase will help introduce the genre of chamber music to a new audience.

“Chamber music, when you hear it and experience it live with professional musicians, is one of the most magnificent experiences of your life,” said Dr. Peach.

A man in a t-shirt and hat stands on a beach with crowds and a bridge in the background
Chamber music director Ricardo Peach says the festival is the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.(ABC North Qld: Baz Ruddick)

The Townsville-based festival started in 1991 and is the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere, but major performances have been suspended for two years during the pandemic.

“Over 60% of our attendees come from the highway…and increasingly from international as well, said Dr. Peach.

“They support this festival like festival groupies – they kept us alive through the lean years during COVID and now they’re back with a bang.”

A man followed by two women crosses a bridge to an island
The concert drew audiences from across the country, including conductor and classical music fan Maggie Beer.(ABC North Qld: Lily Nothling)

Among the Orpheus Island crowd was Australian celebrity chef and classical music fan Maggie Beer, who had long wanted to attend the concert on the beach.

“You have to pinch yourself for this to happen. It’s so Australian, isn’t it?” she says.

“It’s nothing less than a joy.”

A woman smiles while holding the rail of a boat with the beach in the background
Mezzo-soprano Lotte Betts-Dean traveled from the UK to perform at the festival.(ABC North Qld: Baz Ruddick)

After three canceled trips to Australia due to COVID, mezzo-soprano Lotte Betts-Dean was finally able to travel from the UK to sing on the island alongside the musicians.

“I think all of us artists today felt like this was a surreal moment in all of our performance lives,” she said.

“Being able to perform on a beach barefoot in the sand in this idyllic location is just beautiful.

“I think I will really remember this performance for a long time and cherish it because it is unlike anything else.”

A woman plays the flute on a beach in front of a crowd of people
Crowds enjoyed the sounds of chamber music with the sand between their toes.(ABC North Qld: Lily Nothling)

Corina C. Butler