November 2006
Copyright © 2008 CBH
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Australia map: Thursday Island 11K jpeg

Thursday Island—or “TI” to the locals—can be found close to the very tip of Australia’s Cape York Peninsula. Being the administration post, it’s probably the most well-known of the Torres Strait Islands, although the Queensland border was set further much north in 1879 to within sight of the (then) British New Guinea mainland.

Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons has been immortalized on the concert stage and in recordings, with dozens of versions current in the catalog. Some of the most highly-admired are perhaps Simon Standage with the English Concert/Trevor Pinnock or Nils-Erik Sparf with Drottningholm Baroque on original instruments; or Barbara Jane Gilby with the Tasmanian Symphony Chamber Players/Geoffrey Lancaster on modern instruments. The amazing playing of Nigel Kennedy’s first version sold in excess of one million copies.

This 4, however, is a feature-length documentary film project produced by Joanna Buggy and Tim Slade of Vast Productions, and funded in part by the Film Finance Corporation Australia and the NSW Film & Television Office.

Winter in Finland 37K jpeg
Winter in Finland

The concept is simple, and it is surprizing that it hadn’t been thought of before: “In 4 corners of the globe on 4 different days of the year 4 violinists and a small ensemble of their musician friends come together to perform Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.” When I wrote this page pre-release, I was hoping not to give too much away but the choices seemed obvious: Autumn in New York, Winter in up-country Finland, Spring as cherry-blossom time in Japan, and leaving, of course, Summer for Australia.

But the chosen location of Thursday Island posed its own difficulties, aside from its tropical maritime climate with average November daily maximum temperatures of over 30°C and no airconditioning. Firstly, a suitable harpsichord had to be found: Two other Seasons had suitable harpsichords readily available nearby, and a guitar was appropriately used for continuo in Winter. Compact and reliable, it was essential the Australian harpsichord could be safely moved almost 3000km from Sydney into the tropics, then setup and played with no more than a tuning. (If technical help was to be required, I expected to have just finished a project in sub-zero Moscow for the Tchaikovsky Conservatoire, and due to be maintaining instruments on the other side of the Australian continent in the summer of Perth on the way home.) The Neapolitan proved a perfect choice.

Then, it had to be got there. TI lacks its own airstrip: The QANTAS flights from Cairns land at nearby Horn Is and then a barge must be taken. The Dash-8 series 300 aircraft used on that short sector can perhaps fit a double bass in its hold, but not quite a harpsichord flightcase! Fortunately, the schedule allowed the harpsichord to travel by road from Sydney to Cairns, arriving in time to meet the weekly freight sailing north to the Strait, and be greeted by the musicians on their arrival.

Filming for Summer was done the last week of November 2006 on location on TI. 4 was shot entirely in Sony High Definition Digital by cinematographer Pieter de Vries. Opportunity was taken for a concert and even a masterclass with school students—the first time a harpsichord had been on the Island.

Following a June 2007 screening during the Sydney Film Festival, 4 was released in August that year to critical acclaim—you can read the reviews in the Sydney Morning Herald, Brisbane Times and Citysearch—and was later screened on SBS television. The soundtrack has been released on ABC Classics and the movie is now available on DVD. Further information can be found on the official 4 website.

Unloading the harpsichord 33K jpeg
  Rehearsal in progress 39K jpeg
Neal Peres Da Costa
with the harpsichord arriving at the
TI wharf
  In rehearsal with solo violinist
Niki Vasilakis and ’cellist Danny Yeadon
—the rest of the band arriving later

Vast Productions’s “4” DVD cover artwork 52K jpeg

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