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Scott Hicks film shines light on world-class music chamber

Arts

A COSMETICS fortune, million dollar instruments and a philanthropic concert hall in the South Australian countryside.

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Stir it up with a stormy romance and an Academy Award-winning director and you’ve got all the ingredients of a big screen documentary.

But after the curtain comes down on Scott Hicks’ latest offering Highly Strung its greatest assets will live on to benefit music lovers around Australia and the world.

Part of the feature-length documentary is shot at the Ngeringa Cultural Centre in the picturesque Adelaide Hills, about a 40-minute drive from the centre of the South Australian capital Adelaide.

The 220-seat $7.5million amphitheatre was opened in August 2015 with an Australian String Quartet performance, the finale of Hicks’ documentary.

But its story can be traced back to the 1980s when biochemist Dr Jurgen Klein and his wife Ulrike, a horticulturalist moved to South Australia to start cosmetics and natural skincare company Jurlique in the Adelaide Hills.

Jurgen left Australia in the early 2000s and Jurlique was gradually divested to overseas interests. Ulrike, who has always had a passion for chamber music, has turned her attention to philanthropy through the Klein Family Fondation and Ngeringa Arts, named after the casuarina trees that grow on the Adelaide Hills property where Jurlique flourished.

In 2012, after Ulrike sold her remaining stake in Jurlique, the Klein Family Foundation pledged $3 million toward a $6 million Ngeringa Arts project to acquire a unique set of instruments handcrafted by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini, one of history’s foremost luthiers, in Italy from 1743 – 1784.

Three of the instruments have been secured through the Guadagnini Quartet Project and are on loan to the Adelaide-based Australian String Quartet, which also has use of a fourth Guadagnini. It is the world’s only matched quartet of Guadagnini’s.

Not content with providing the ASQ with instruments, Ngeringa Arts set about building a world-class venue for chamber music to be played in.

Hicks, the director of the Academy Award winning movie Shine, said he considered Highly Strung, which had its Australian release last month, as the third film in a musical trilogy spanning 20 years of his career alongside Shine and Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts.

The Adelaide resident said he was astounded by the size and scale of the building on his first visit.

“On the night that it opened somebody made a really telling reference that it’s probably not since the 19th Century Elder bequests in Adelaide that you had something of this monumental nature that’s essentially been created as a gift for the public,” Hicks said.

“You really feel as though something astonishing has been set in South Australia and now it’s up to us and up to the state to utilise it.”

The Australian String Quartet, which Hicks warmly refers to as the venue’s “house band”, will play a sold–out concert at Ngeringa Cultural Centre on Sunday (June 26).

The chamber music venue was designed for up to 12 players by South Australian-based architect Anton Johnson, who worked in collaboration with acoustical engineers Arup.

Its intimacy is enhanced with the audience seated around the performance space on three sides. A 9m wide, 4.2m high glass wall acts as a backdrop to the performers, providing stunning views of the surrounding hills, vineyards and garden.

Concerts are typically held at 3pm, allowing the east-facing windows to frame views of the late afternoon sun drenching the summit of Mount Barker.

Ngeringa Arts General Manager Alison Beare said the auditorium’s acoustics had been recognised by commentators as the best chamber music space in Australia.

“If you look at all of the detail on the walls every piece of wood in the space has been calculated to give the optimum acoustical performance,” she said.

“The carpenters who worked on this building realised they were involved in something really special. The acoustician would fly in from Brisbane to check the work and the absolute attention to detail and every finish was just extraordinary to watch.”

The centre’s commercial business model allows it to host functions such as weddings and conferences and also includes guest quarters for artist’s in residence. The raked seating is retractable, opening up a flat floor space to seat 150 dinner guests.

It has now hosted more than 20 concerts and is looking to expand its program in 2017.

Beare said there had been a great deal of interest from interstate and the centre was looking to attract international artists.

“For next year we are looking to introduce new series. We are not going to do it in one massive leap, we’ve got to make sure that it is viable and that we’re bringing in new people to build our audience numbers overall,” she said.

“In terms of the publicity, the word is absolutely out there from the artists but it’s making sure that we’ve got the audience to support that.

“When people come here they’re going to have quite a unique listening experience.”

This is a Creative Commons story from The Lead South Australia, a news service providing stories about innovation in South Australia. Please feel free to use the story in any form of media. The story sources are linked in with the copy and all contacts are willing to talk further about the story.

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