Adaptation celebration

Harlequin (Brisbane Music Festival)

June 20

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The second performance of the 2020 Brisbane Music Festival Streamed Series (running from June to October), “Harlequin” offers a classical take on contemporary music, featuring rising star flautist Jemima Drews, UK-based music-theatre performer Laura Raineri and classical pianist Alex Raineri, the festival’s Artistic Director.

To begin Jemima Drew’s performance of Herbert Hamilton Harty’s imaginative ‘In Ireland’ musical homage to the composer’s home country entices audiences as it wistfully rises its fantasy to some joyous Celtic places, with Alex Raineri’s peppy piano ripples providing a personality-filled accompaniment. The number’s tempo affords the perfect platform for flautist Jemima Drews to show her command of the instrument. Similarly, she showcases the light and shadow of Carl Vine’s contemporary Australian work, ‘Sonata for Flute and Piano’, emphasising its unusual register combination of light, lyrical melodies and lively rhythms.

The virtuosity of these opening numbers is complemented by a selection of well-known musical theatre and popular songs. Indeed, the numbers that then follow are more familiar from a popularist perspective as Laura Raineri gives us a soulful ‘I’ve Put a Spell on You’ with moody and evocatively-rich vocals, before a beautiful and tender ‘Moon River’ of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” fame (or “Sex and The City” for those of a different vintage), thanks also to Alex Raineri’s melancholic piano input.

Musical theatre moments follow with numbers from shows such as “Kiss Me Kate” and “Into the Woods”, before an arresting, eccentric and somewhat jarring sidestep through Amy Beth Kirsten’s curious ‘Pirouette on a Moon Sliver’, in which Jemima Drew is a vocalising flautist in zealous character study of the obsessive commedia dell’arte character, Harlequin. The best is saved for last though with Laura Raineri’s compelling, powerful but also appropriately fragile vocal performance of the contagiously melodic ‘Waving Through a Window’ from “Dear Evan Hansen” aka my new favourite thing from a Broadway visit last year. Finally, a beautifully reflective ‘Hallelujah’, both reminds audience members of the significance of Leondard Cohen’s legacy as an artist, as much as it platforms Laura Raineri’s formidable vocals.

“Harlequin” is a perfect show for lovers of music in all of its moods and while certainly nothing can replace the magic of live performance, it illustrates how music can still serve as a powerful storytelling vehicle, worthy of celebration now perhaps more than ever. The Brisbane Music Festival, now in its third year, is, in 2020, featuring ten streamed concerts with an intimate event such as this one each fortnight. And regardless of the new endeavour of its now-digital format, if “Harlequin” is any indication, the adapted festival promises continued shared celebration of music that dances, breathes, uplifts, haunts and stimulates.