Canowindra's Baroquefest, now in its ninth year, has grown well beyond organisers' expectations and is now perceived by many as a truly iconic inland NSW baroque music event for which it is becoming necessary to book tickets almost a year in advance.
The festival was started in 2015 by Richard Statham and has gone from strength to strength.
Mr Statham felt compelled to start the festival after moving from Barraba, where he and his wife, Flo, raised their three sons for many years on a relatively isolated large grazing property running Merino sheep and cattle, to Rosnay, an organic vineyard outside Canowindra, growing Shiraz, Chardonnay, Mataro/Mauvedre, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vermantino, Cinsault, and Saperavi vines.
"An old friend of ours, Bill Bright, the noted Australian harpsichord maker from Barraba, used to bring top keyboard artists, including Geoffrey Lancaster and John O'Donnell, to play his harpsichords and a restored old pipe organ at Barraba churches and RSL hall," Mr Statham said.
"It always seemed so special to have such world-class music performances in the near-outback.
"We moved to Canowindra in 1995, and I missed that unique musical connection."
Mr Statham rang Sydney Conservatorium to ask if an ensemble would visit and play at Canowindra's All Saints Anglican church.
Then director of the ensemble's unit, David Miller, paused and responded, "That's interesting. We've never been invited west of the sandstone curtain before".
Mr Miller visited Canowindra, taking with him five to 10 music students each April, for the next 20 years.
It started with one-off concerts, a masterclass or a school visit at Canowindra and developed into what David called his "Grand Western tour of NSW" - a 10-day concert tour of as many towns and schools as possible.
"This close association with Sydney Conservatorium prompted me, with a few locals, to form a committee leading to the formation of Canowindra Fine Music Inc. with the aim of holding an annual three-day music festival centred on the baroque era," Mr Statham said.
"Musica Viva advised us to maintain the 'baroque brand' for Canowindra as it is the only such festival in NSW."
Committee members with grant application writing skills got a kick start in 2015 when they were successful in securing a $10,000 grant from Australia Council (now Creative Australia) and funding from Orange Regional Arts Foundation, Cabonne Council and Arts Out West.
Music director Andrew Baker, Orange, used his connections to bring several ensembles from Sydney, Canberra and elsewhere for the inaugural Baroquefest in 2015. Many highly successful professional musicians have performed since.
At the end of September this year, in a departure from the usual routine, Madeleine Easton's Bach Akademie Australia (BAA) performed all five concerts of secular and religious compositions reflecting Bach's whole lifetime's work.
Madeleine returned from London shortly before the festival after playing her violin at King Charles's coronation.
There were 16 musicians and singers, and Jonathan Biggins AM as a guest presenter for one concert.
Renowned former ABC Classic producer and presenter Marian Arnold has been a drawcard for music lovers as the festival's patron since the beginning.
"Canowindra, with its proliferation of cafes, art galleries, Age of Fishes Museum and other attractions, is well placed to draw audiences from within the region but also from Sydney, Blue Mountains, Canberra, Southern Highlands and many other places," Mr Statham said.
"While it offers lots of accommodation for a town of only 2500 people, bed numbers and venue sizes are the limiting factors. However, these limitations ensure the boutique, intimate nature of the event.
"Musicians say JS Bach's favourite venue was Zimmerman's Coffee Haus in Leipzig, where these conditions prevailed."
Over the past several years, festival tickets have sold out some months before the festival.
"To achieve this very welcome outcome, we need to have contracted the musicians and agreed on the full program details well in advance so that all that information can be published on the website early," Mr Statham said.
"This involves a lot of work for the committee members, all of whom to date have been passionate volunteers."
Mr Statham had valuable advice for others planning festivals in their rural towns.
"It is important to have an attractive website and people on board who have data, budgeting, record keeping, marketing, grant application and grant acquittal writing skills," he said.
"They need to form an incorporated not-for-profit body to enable grant applications to be made to government and non-government funding agencies.
"They need passion and a willingness to work together as volunteers to gain support from their wider community."
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