Brycefield Estate Festival; Bringing Music to the Hunter Valley

                         

Brycefield Estate is one of the Hunter Valley’s most recognisable properties. Described as ‘standing proud in it’s commanding position overlooking Pokolbin, Lovedale and the Brokeback Ranges,’ our home is set on approximately fifty acres of elevated, gently rolling wine country. When my partner Dr Bruce Caldwell and I purchased the house in 2018, we knew at once that the beautiful landscaped gardens and the backdrop of eighteen acres of vineyards would provide the perfect location for some of the things we envisaged. We imagined creating a real sense of place and belonging in the Hunter Valley; friends, colleagues, neighbours and the wider community coming together. Music, food and wine were the constantly recurring themes in our discussions.

Never did I think for one moment that the first Brycefield Estate Music Festival would be born out of a global pandemic.

As a professional opera singer, I had an entire year’s worth of local and international engagements cancelled in the first months of 2020. I was extremely empathetic to the plight of others in the industry. When restrictions eased in regional Australia mid-year, I was, like my colleagues worldwide, desperately missing music making. Bruce and I decided we could open our home to help fill some of the musical void, and invite local musicians to find their artistic voices once again.

The first festival was held over an extended weekend in October, 2020, under the shadow of COVID-19 restrictions. With only twenty visitors allowed in a private home, not including the performing artists, we implemented a COVID safe plan and organised four different events featuring fourteen artists, all of whom were delighted to return to performing. The pandemic had prevented us all from connecting with each other through live music. Our existence had been disrupted more than we ever could have imagined. The weekend at Brycefield gave us a chance to process and compare our experiences with others, and the simple joy of coming together to support art and artists was immediately clear. It turned into a hugely successful and at time, emotional long weekend.

We were entertained by well-known cabaret artist Mark Trevorrow (aka Bob Downe) and pianist Bev Kennedy who made us laugh and cry during their very clever show called ‘Singing Straight.’ Popular Newcastle jazz duo Terence Koo (keyboard) and Heather Price (bass) performed in the Brycefield ‘jazz lounge” as audience members enjoyed supper plates and wine from local producer Allendale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of Australia’s finest guitarists, Andrew Blanch, gave a Latin inspired concert in the garden. He also joined the Newcastle Camerata for a performance of Vivaldi’s Lute Concerto in D Major. The Camerata presented a sensational programme featuring local composer David Banney’s Taking Flight. This world premiere received a spontaneous standing ovation.

One of the undisputed highlights of the day was the lunchtime picnic in the gardens. In the shade of four leafy Manchurian Pear trees and flanked by ornamental hedging and white rose bushes, guests set out their baskets laden with food and wine on the provided tables and chairs. This break provided a lovely opportunity to speak with the guest artists and meet other audience members. Andrew generously signed copies of his new ABC album Alchemy, also featuring guitarist Ariel Nurhadi.

As the sun set over the distant ranges, three singers (Jill Sullivan, Genevieve Dickson and Sarah Dockrill) presented a Song Recital featuring works by Grieg, Brahms and Schumann accompanied by pianists Claire Howard Race and Ross Fiddes.

Spurred on by the overwhelming and enthusiastic feedback, I was inspired to organise the second festival in March 2021, this time without number restrictions. Andrew Blanch, who had recently been included in Limelight’s 30 Under 30″ list, returned to perform by popular demand, this time collaborating with the engaging harpist Emily Grainger, previously Principal Harpist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  Andrew and Emily performed a beautiful programme of rarely heard works including Maximo Diego Pujol’s Suite Magica, the Danzas Espanolas by Granados, Ravel’s famous Pavane for a Dead Princess and a newly commissioned work by Brazilian composer Marco Pereira. After their recital these two highly engaging personalities took the time to talk about their respective instruments and some lucky audience members got to try out their musical skills!

Popular flutist Jane Rutter gave a French inspired recital on six different instruments (including an 1887 Louis Lot, the Stradivarius of the flute), featuring works by Fauré, Debussy, Chopin and Poulenc. Accompanied by John Martin, she transported the audience straight to Paris. She cleverly interwove her performance with personal stories and anecdotes which really helped her connect with the audience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazingly versatile Mezzo-Soprano Jacqui Dark presented her thrilling cabaret show which featured the works of Jacques Brel. Accompanied by the extraordinarily talented pianist Daryl Wallis, she took us all on an emotionally charged roller coaster ride. Some musical levity was given by Newcastle quartet Sax Blu who performed on different saxophones. It was en evening I will not quickly forget.

The grand finale of the second festival took place at Lillino’s Restaurant at St Clement’s Winery in the form of an Opera Gala degustation lunch with matching wines. Hosted by owner Luigi Pinna, guests gathered for pre lunch drinks and canapés on the verandah of the winery before moving inside to hear a quartet of singers (Catherine Bouchièr, Matthew Reardon, Teddy Tahu Rhodes and Deborah Humble) perform operatic and musical theatre favourites accompanied by Sharolyn Kimmorley. The event sold out in just three days and was a hit with festival patrons and locals alike.

It is my hope that this festival in the Hunter Valley will continue to expand and attract world class Australian musicians.

Bruce and I have been working with local architect Karen Shearer on the design of a larger performance space outside, complete with roof and lighting, bathrooms, change rooms and storage space for musicians and their instruments. It won’t be finished by the March 2022 festival, but do stay tuned for developments. Our liquor license is also being processed and you will be able to try and purchase Brycefield Estate Pecorino, Semillon and Chardonnay at future events.

We can’t think of a better way to be involved in the community than by offering a connection through music, food and wine; helping to foster the formation of bonds and friendships which might otherwise not be possible.

Thank you for your support.

The next Brycefield Estate Music Festival will take place on March 25th-27th, 2022.

Artists will include concert pianist Shamray Konstantin, marimba player Adam Jeffrey in recital with guitarist Andrew Blanch, Principal Clarinetist of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra Francesco Celata in recital with Sharolyn Kimmorley, singers Julie Lea Goodwin (soprano) and Deborah Humble (Mezzo-Soprano) and some surprises along the way.

If you would like to sponsor an artist or a concert, or if you would like further details about tickets please e-mail me at deborah@deborahhumble.com 

 

Giving it a crack! How an obscure Italian grape variety came to be grown in the Hunter Valley…

Pecorino, it’s not just a cheese…

If you are a cheese lover you will most likely be familiar with pecorino, a kind of cousin to parmigiano; a hard, salty cheese made from sheep’s milk. What you may not yet have discovered is that pecorino is also a native Italian grape variety. This pale, small and delicate grape is sweet in flavour due to its high sugar content and has natural acidity. Because of this the grape makes a decently high-alcohol wine, sometimes up to 14%. It’s balanced flavour profile leans towards citrus or tropical with a depth of minerality that can run to salty.

Thought to be almost obsolete by the mid-20th Century, the low-yielding, seasonally fickle grape has been plucked from obscurity and has been making something of a renaissance since the 1990’s. Its revival is credited to one man, renowned Italian winemaker Guido Cocci Grifoni, who in the 1980’s decided to investigate a rumour about some forgotten vines in an overgrown vineyard. He took cuttings from the vines he discovered and eventually grew enough grapes to make wine. Since then, plantings of pecorino have grown enormously and the variety can now be found across Italy in the Marche, Abruzzo, Umbria and Tuscany.

The story behind the name…

‘Pecora’ is the Italian word for ‘sheep’ and it has beed said that this sugary grape had sweet appeal to these woolly animals. As the shepherds took their sheep south into the mountains from Abruzzo to Puglia, a journey known as the transumanza, they passed vineyards of ripe fruit along the way. Hungry sheep would stop to snack on the grapes thus giving them the name pecorino. Another version of this sheepish tale tells that the animals ate so many of the farmer’s grapes that compensation had to be given them in the form of wedges of pecorino cheese. A tall tale? Who knows, but everyone loves a good story especially when wine is involved!

News Flash!

Pecorino has made its way to Australia and is now being grown at Brycefield Estate Vineyard in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales. 

Our story…

Brycefield Estate Homestead and Vineyard is set on approximately 50 acres of gently undulating land in the heart of Lovedale wine country in New South Wales’ Hunter Valley. With sweeping views over the Brokenback Ranges, my partner Bruce Caldwell and I first fell in love with this property after inspecting it in 2017. 

As we drove drove up the impressive, tree-lined driveway, Bruce turned to me with uncharacteristic decisiveness and proclaimed, ‘we’re going to buy this place.’ And we did buy it, moving in in 2018 with dreams of an idyllic lifestyle full of food, wine, friends and music. 

Of course nothing is ever that simple. There was one not so small hitch. Brycefield Estate came with 18 acres of neglected verdelho, semillon and chardonnay vines. These 18 acres would need to be renovated and restored and that was going to be at least a three year project. Bruce, always up for a challenge, declared, ‘let’s give this a crack!’

Our first step was to find a viticulturist. Bruce employed Liz Riley to advise on the day to day decision making in the vineyard. Liz came to us with a plethora of experience and a string of awards behind her, including being named Viticulturist Of The Year and this year receiving a Hunter Valley Legend Award For Excellence.

Discussing the future of the vineyard together on a hot 38 degree day, Liz asked Bruce if he would like to replant the three acres of dead verdelho vines. Not being a huge fan of verdelho wine and inspired by the very hot temperatures we were experiencing, Bruce thought to ask about what kind of warm climate varieties might do well in Lovedale. Vermentino was  discussed before it was discovered that Chalmers Vine Nursery in South Australia had some pecorino cuttings that had just completed a three year quarantine period.

I was familiar with pecorino wines from my time living in Italy and had really enjoyed them, finding them more flavoursome and complex than other European white varieties. Further research told us this variety was thick-skinned and disease resistant and Bruce decided it sounded perfect. 2700 pecorino vines were planted at Brycefield Estate in September of 2018 followed by another 300 twelve months later, making a total of 3000 vines.

The pecorino rootlings before they were planted…

Bruce treated these rootlings as if they were his babies. He regularly checked each and every spindly ‘stick’, encouraging them to grow up to the fruiting wire. We were quite incredulous when they all turned into productive, healthy vines.

Bunches of compact pecorino grapes on the vine at Brycefield. Bunches are cylindric and elongated with a protruding wing, almost like a second cluster. When they are more mature the thick skin makes them suitable for machine picking.

The first vintage…

Just before Australia Day in January 2021the first grapes were deemed ready for harvest.

A Diva handpicking grapes for the first time. Singing is easier!

Liz and Bruce with a sample of the pecorino grapes…

End of January Harvest Lunch…

Just over two tonnes were handpicked and sold to The Little Wine Company, a local company specialising in small parcels of grapes and unusual varieties. Winemaker Suzanne Little turned the grapes into one of Australia’s first pecorino wines and it was bottled and labelled.

Tasting the must…

We took back 500 bottles to sell under our own label with the rest being sold under The Little Wine Company label. We named our first pecorino ‘Il Dottore’, Italian for The Doctor, to reflect Bruce’s dedication to growing this new variety and to reflect our general belief that wine can cure almost all ills! The wine has been described as having a ‘delicious, crisp, crunchy palate with delicate pear and pink lady apple flavours.’ We wait expectantly to see how it performs at the NSW and Hunter Valley Wine Shows later this year.

The label design

Bruce designed a label with the help of our neighbour and graphic designer Sally Sneddon from Allendale Winery. The insignia, which will also be featured on the ‘Il Primo’ semillon and ‘Diva’ chardonnay wines, features the medical symbol of two snakes winding around a winged staff superimposed on a winged helmet. The winged helmet is a common symbol in romantic illustrations of legendary Norse gods and heroes and commonly associated with the Wagnerian opera singer. The  design represents not only our differing professions but our partnership and joint commitment to our vineyard dream.

The future…

The vineyard is now fully renovated and we picked over 40 tonnes of grapes in 2021. New fiano vines, another Italian white variety, have recently been planted. The application for our liquor license is underway and our 2021 wine will be available on our new website by the end of the year. We look forward to expanding production in 2022. We expect to harvest up to six tonnes of pecorino and produce all of this special variety under our own label.

 

Here’s a link to a short article in the Newcastle Herald

https://www.newcastleherald.com.au/story/7147196/hunter-producers-set-stage-for-pecorino-premiere/

Keen to compare and contrast?

Here are some pecorino wines we have tried you might be able to find in a good bottle shop.

2020 Chalmers Pecorino, Heathcote, Victoria, $31

2019 Illuminati Pecorino, Abruzzo, Italy, $19

2019 Umani Ronchi Vellodoro, Abruzzo, Italy, $30

2018 Chalmers Pecorino, Mildura, Victoria, $25

2018 Pemo Pecorino, Abruzzo, Italy $15

2018 Tenuta Ulisse Pecorino, Abruzzo, Italy, $36

2017 Umani Ronchi Centvie, Abruzzo, Italy, $50

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bon Appétit! Julia Child’s chocolate cake recipe to try at home (and a delicious little opera by Lee Hoiby)

Many months ago my attention was drawn to a 25 minute, comic one-act opera monologue written for mezzo-soprano based on the words of American cooking personality Julia Child. The friend and colleague who sent me the music said he could imagine me singing the role, suggesting it would be a fun piece to perform at some point at our country house, Brycefield Estate. I found a performance of the opera on youtube sung by American mezzo-soprano Joyce Castle, and agreed it looked like a lot of fun; a piece combining my love of singing and cooking. I’ve been trying to find the time to learn it ever since. Can you guess what my personal COVID lockdown goal was?

When the Coronavirus took hold last year my partner and I decided to live full time in Lovedale in the Hunter Valley. As singing engagements both in Australia and overseas were cancelled one by one, I realised I was going to have a lot of free time during 2020. We are lucky to have a lot of space on the property. I tended my vegetable and herb gardens and began spending many happy hours in the kitchen. My thoughts turned to learning Bon Appetit! by composer Lee Hoiby. I began researching the life of Julia Child and how the opera came to be. With so much time to spare, browsing through the acclaimed chef’s recipes was a real pleasure.

I always follow a recipe when I cook, although I definitely treat cooking as more like an art than a science; a bit more of this, a bit less of that. The overwhelming popularity of Julia Child came not just from her culinary expertise but from her matter-of-fact style and self-deprecating humour. She liked to experiment and she set out to demystify French cooking for an American audience. To quote from My Life in France, “Learn how to cook – try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”

I can say with certainty that learning Bon Appetit! the opera was fun! I don’t think I’ve ever had to imitate a celebrity figure before. The music is quite tricky, although, like most scores, it begins to make sense when you live with it for a while. The composer actually wrote Bon Appetit! for Jean Stapleton, who, despite being best known for her role as Edith Bunker on All In The Family was also a trained singer. When Julia Child was asked for recipe recommendations by the composer, she suggested “something with a lot of action.” The idea of a bouillabaisse or chicken marengo was considered but it was a chocolate cake that was settled on; the cake she made in Episode 228 of The French Chef which aired in 1961.

This recipe certainly supplies a lot of movement for the singer/actor. The hardest part of the learning process was definitely adding the ‘cooking’ or production component to the music. Fitting the required actions (beating egg whites, melting and tempering chocolate, greasing the pans and sifting flour) into the exact number of musical bars given was really something that required repeated rehearsal and continuous cleaning of the kitchen! As the libretto says, “when you’re going to do a cake, you’ve really got to have to have a battle plan.”

The rehearsal studio…

I am pleased to say that now we are back on the stage in 2021, performances of Bon Appetit! are up and running. Pianist Sharolyn Kimmorley AM and I have had more than a few laughs putting it all together. I’d like to say the outcome is predictable every time, but, like all good live theatre, there are always a few variations when you cook and especially when you cook and sing at the same time!

“Not as neat as it could be…” says Julia. Luckily is usually tastes good, despite appearances!

Our first pre-performance showing was held in the kitchen of Brycefield House as part of the second Brycefield Estate Music Festival on March 28th, 2021, and this was followed by a dinner show on April 20th at the Foghorn Brewery in Newcastle as part of The Food Festival. 

More on the Newcastle Food Festival can be found here.

We are pleased to announce that our next dinner show will be at the iconic Bennelong Restaurant at the Sydney Opera House at Bennelong Point, Circular Quay on July 21st, 2021. Click here for more details and to book a ticket.

Finally, here is the now-famous recipe for Le Gateau au Chocolat l’Eminence Brune for you to bake at home. It really is a “very delicate cake” and worth trying. The difference is you can take all the time you like!

Happy cooking and Bon Appétit! Here is the recipe.

 

A note from your singing teacher; staying motivated in the time of Coronavirus…

Dear singing students,

Staying motivated during the weeks and months ahead when you will not be able to meet face to face with your teachers and coaches will be a new challenge for us all.  Courses and study modules have come to an abrupt stop, rehearsals and performances have been postponed, lessons have been cancelled. 

Your goal posts have been seriously moved. No more summer school in Europe, no more chorus work, no more masterclasses or competitions to work towards, no more auditions, no more income, no sign of an end to ‘the crisis’ and, perhaps hardest of all, no more day to day connection with your colleagues.

What we do currently have an abundance of is time. Time can be both a blessing and a curse. Several students have expressed to me that more time means more worry, more frustration, more doubt, more negativity. I think we’re all experiencing some of this as we get used to ‘the new normal.’ 

We can also view our new time rich circumstances as a wonderful opportunity. Consider spending the next few weeks learning an operatic role, memorising a song cycle, putting together a short recital programme or getting future competition repertoire learnt.

To achieve this we’ll need to find a new routine, a new pattern of learning and a new level of self-accountability. We will need to draw on our reserves of willpower. With few real deadlines in the immediate future it can be difficult to continue to find the motivation to work in isolation.

I’ve put together a few ideas which, although not designed to be comprehensive, I hope might help you navigate these challenging times. Together we can stay professionally on target, remain mentally and vocally healthy and emerge fully prepared when these strange times are over.

Make a plan…

What are your goals during this period? It might help to put your ideas down on paper. Write down your dreams and inspirations so that if you ever find yourself lacking in motivation you can come back and reread this. Consider a personal ‘motivation’ board using words and pictures to inspire you.

How long will it take to learn the role, the song cycle, the audition pieces, the recital programme? Consider mapping out a timeline for yourself and setting goals at short and long intervals. When would you like to have the first recitative learnt? The first act? When would you like to have the role off the book?

What other family and work commitments will you need to work around in order to achieve your goal?

Think about creating a ‘personal statement’ for yourself, a bit like a business mission statement. This could be something like ‘I would like to have the role of ….. learned in two months time,’ ‘ I will work on my technique and breathing for 30 minutes every day,’ or ‘I will commit to an online lesson once a week.’

What will the benefits be when you achieve your goal? How will it make you feel?  How will it help your long term ambition?

Manage your time and stick to your strategy…

If possible, organise and create your own private work space.

I’ve often opened opera scores and thought ‘how on earth will I ever learn all this?’ or ‘where will I start?’ Commit to spending a certain amount of time each day to your work and try not to get distracted during this time. turn off technology and social media.

Consider devoting the same time each day to learning. Routine can help achieve goals.

Don’t procrastinate. Prioritise.

Work out who you need to help you reach your goal. Your teacher? A musical or language coach? When will you be checking in with these people? What exactly do you need from them?

Take the time to learn accurately. It’s very hard to unlearn mistakes.

Know when enough is enough. The brain can only cope with so much learning in one day. Take regular breaks and step away for other activities and rest.

Occasionally reset goals as you go along. Have confidence in your ability to be successful. Don’t give up.

Slowly develop your own method of doing things.

Congratulate yourself when tasks are achieved. Celebrate milestones.

Learning the role/the repertoire…

Choosing a score to work from…

Choose to learn or audition for a role which is within your current capabilities and which you think you might sing in the near future.

If you already have the job, find out which score the company is going to work from.  Differences can occur between scores in notation, rhythm, dynamics and text, so it pays to do the research first and learn the correct version. Scores sometimes have mistakes in them.

Speak to experienced singers, rehearsal pianists, coaches and conductors about choosing the best edition for your needs. 

Consider investing in quality voice/piano scores.

Do you prefer to work from an online score?

Which language will the opera be in?

Are there any traditional cuts? Will the conductor be incorporating these?

Which version of the opera will be used? (Wagner’s Tannhäuser has a Paris and a Dresden version).

Are there any key modifications to various arias?

If you are singing a concert Requiem or similar in Latin, which version of the Latin should you learn?

Listening…

Start listening to a variety of recordings.

Who are your favourite singers in the role/repertoire and why?

How do these singers approach recitative/arias/cadenzas/ornamentation?

What is it about their vocal expression and interpretation that you like?

Listen to the overall impact of the musical score, especially the orchestration.

Listen to different interpretations of tempi and dynamics.

Don’t try to imitate a particular singer; use what you like about their interpretation to inform your own performance

Mark up your score…

Highlight your line or use coloured tabs; find your own system.

Be careful not to miss any parts of the score!

Translation and Language…

One of the best investments for singers is that of language. The more you understand the grammar and words you are singing and that others are singing to you, the more convincing your performance will be. One day you might need to communicate with conductors, singers and teachers in a European language. Anything you do now to anticipate this will make your life easier later.

The language/libretto/poetry informs the emotion, intent and direction of your singing

Don’t rely on given translations as they are often misleading and incorrect. Do your own. Know what every word means. Write yourself a word for word translation and then something more general or poetic.

Read a synopsis.

Read the libretto.

Learn the pronunciation. 

Practice speaking the recitatives.

Speak the words through in rhythm.

Do all the above before you actually start singing.

Create your character…

Start with the libretto.

What do other characters say about your character?

Start reading anything relevant regarding history. Think of history as being linear. What else was going on in the world at the time? Art, literature, philosophy, inventions, architecture, politics?

Who are you?

What do you look like?

What are you feeling?

How might you move?

Who do you sing the aria to?

Are you alone on stage or is somebody listening/reacting?

What traditional props might your character use? Are you reading a letter, playing an instrument, holding a sword?

How would you like the audience/other characters to feel when you’ve finished the song/aria?

Are there gaps in the character’s history? Can you fill these in yourself?

Map out the emotional journey  of your character through the entire opera. How are they at the end as opposed to the beginning?

Might your character have any particular personality traits or quirks that you could incorporate into your acting?

Most directors are happy that a singer has thought about these things themselves regardless of their concept of the production. There is often very little or even no time to help singers with their character during production rehearsals.

Learning the notes…

Decide where you’re going to start and learn the notes.

Do you start with the arias (often easier as we are usually more familiar with the music), the recitatives (often take longest to learn as they are ‘wordy’) or the ensembles? 

Be particular with melody and rhythm. 

Think technically when you are learning as well as musically. If there is something particularly difficult in the score then return to your vocalises to practice exercises which will help, for example coloratura, large intervals, chromatic passages.

Consider getting a coach to record your line or the accompaniment if you have trouble doing this yourself

Memorisation…

Repetition, repetition, repetition.

Don’t overdo it in one session or one day. The brain can only cope with so much. 

Break things up into manageable chunks. 

Sleep on things. You’ll be surprised how much you will probably remember from yesterday’s practice.

Try recalling words at times during the day when you are not practicing like before sleep or on public transport.

Write out the text over and over if that helps you.

Identify musical and textual patterns.

Text notecards; some singers use these although I recommend getting rid of them before the first rehearsal.

I always know I have something well memorised when I can perform other tasks at the same time as singing the music: cooking, cleaning, gardening etc.

Production and movement really help with memory too. The brain links a certain movement or space with particular music.

Coaching and Technical Lessons…

At some point you will need to work on the role with a coach and a teacher.

Professional singers need both of these and should work with both regularly.

It’s also a good idea to get specialised language coachings if you need them.

Happy learning!

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