Basically Classical

This is an environment that encourages risk, supports innovation, and loves building long term, nurturing relationships with artists. (Four Winds: The First Ten Years by Ian McFarlane, Bermagui 2000. The large photo below is also by Ian McFarlane.)
These aspirations were realised in the first festival in 1991 and in all sixteen festivals since then. The Four Winds Festival was begun by a group of friends and visionaries passionate about classical music. Several of these are still active participants, including Neilma Gantner, her son Carrillo Gantner, many other members of their Myer family, Sheena Boughen, the current Chairperson and others.

For the first festival, Professor Michael Brimer provided musical expertise; Rodney Hall had run early music festivals in Canberra and all the others were equally committed to quality classical music. This background enabled the festival to establish a reputation for excellence in music that is enhanced by being performed in a magical site, where artists, winds, birds, even on occasion a Four Winds frog, all contribute to the proceedings.

Early committee members (now deceased) Geoff Hammond, John Ellingworth, and Terry Irwin were significant contributors and still much cherished.

The festival site is an amphitheatre built on land owned by Carrillo Gantner at Barragga Bay, 14 km south of Bermagui, which is 375 km south of Sydney, with a population of about 1,000 people.

From its very beginning, the programming has been extraordinarily eclectic, with diversity and excellence the driving forces, still evident today. Classical music from plainchant to modern art music is included and many new commissions have enriched almost all events, particularly recently.

Indigenous Music and Music from Other Cultures

Indigenous music appeared first in 1994, and music from other cultures has featured in every festival since 1993, beginning with the gamelan, followed by Riley Lee’s shakuhachi in 1995, with his latest performance in 2008.

Musicians and ensembles of the highest rank have performed, many to return several times: Rita Hunter, Michael Kieran Harvey, Geoffrey Tozer, Lauris Elms, Larry Adler, Goldner String Quartet, The Macquarie Trio, La Romanesca and The Song Company.

Artistic Directors

The complexity and scope of the festivals was greatly enlarged by the two most recent artistic directors, Chris Latham, 2006 and 2008 and Genevieve Lacey, 2010 and 2012. Both of them managed to find the funds to meet their ambitious programs. All four festivals they produced have been innovative and exhilarating from beginning to end, with increased attendances, greater local content, more overseas performers, more commissions, and greater audience reach, from local to regional, national and international members.

The first free Bermagui Friday afternoon concert in 2008 was initially developed to popularize the festival in Bermagui itself and to enhance support from local residents, business people and tourists. It began with Riley Lee in a wet suit emerging from the ocean playing his shakuhachi, followed by Genevieve Lacey, leading all the children from this opening to the oval, playing the recorder as a Pied Piper figure. These concerts are now a most entrancing and very popular event, successful in the aims above. These concerts draw large performing and audience members from the entire region.

Highly valued by the Four Winds community have been recent commitments: meaningful interaction with the local and national indigenous communities; on-going concerts, workshops and educational programs both local and regional; the Friday free concerts; brain food seminars and unusual fund raising functions.

Four Winds was the winner in 2011 of the Australian Art Music Award for Excellence in a Regional Location. All of these factors have attracted the following responses from government sources: $420,000 in 2010 from the Australia Council, to fund activities between festivals, $770,000 in 2011 from the NSW Government and donors for the sound shell, completed for the 2012 festival, and $1.67m from the federal government in 2011 to build a large ‘shed’ for the 2014 festival.

These facilities will then be available for local and regional events.

Local and regional communities are actively behind the festival, with more volunteers every year and better publicity by word of mouth as well as more formal avenues. The ABC now supports the festivals by recording and broadcasting them. The Australian conductor Paul Kildea, former Head of Music of the Aldeburgh Festival and Artistic Director of Wigmore Hall, will be the new Artistic Director for 2014.

What other festival could boast that the most sought after volunteer positions are on the car parking team? Vale Terry Irwin, to his team: What do you get in exchange for your kindness? 
Well you get to keep the silly T shirt, but not the high-viz vest. You get one free weekend pass valued at $150.The satisfaction of parking the $300,000 Lamborghini in the worst spot possible and surrounded by dusty Subarus and old Holdens. The grateful appreciation of all the folk involved in the Festival.


Prue Neidorf, entered on Knowledge Base 18 January 2014. Email: Web:

Prue Neidorf has been a member of the Four Winds board for 9 years, Music Librarian at the National Library for 20 years and a founding and continuing member of the Music Council of Australia.

No comment yet, add your voice below!

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *