It’s typically reserved for the movie screen - a grand ballroom filled to capacity, guests wearing their finer threads and chamber musicians holding our silence. And it’s all playing out in Pontville. We’re sitting in Epsom House, among the 100 oldest homes of Australia, continuing a musical traditional 150 years in the making.
Owners Jacqui and Geoffrey Robertson are staunch patrons of the arts. In this little-known country town, the pair have lured some of Australia’s and indeed the world’s most revered musicians. It’s an unlikely destination- that musicians may perform in Berlin, Sydney and Pontville, Tasmania. But here we are, in a gold-trimmed ballroom. It’s difficult to imagine the meticulously restored venue was without ceiling when Jacqui and Geoff took ownership.
We arrive at the 1829-built mansion, lit warmly on this Saturday evening. Guests are enjoying a quiet tipple in the Drawing Room, just through the window beside a thick red door. We’re greeted by Jacqui, her animated eyes a telling sign of what’s in store.
Ushered through to the Conservatory, plates of hor d’oeuvres are swiftly delivered to our hands, prepared by chef Ceinwen Macbeth. Downstairs is bustling with polite chatter and circles of familiar concert-goers – these performances are not publically advertised but most appear friends of Epsom House and long-standing fans of the Robertson’s evenings.
As we move upstairs, we’re directed past stately rooms where we glimpse the beginnings of a four-poster bed. But it’s the ballroom that takes the breath. Our stage is set for the night of music to begin – the Robertson’s have a close relationship with the Conservatory of Music and tonight they are hosting classical flautist Jane Rutter and guitarist Giuseppi Zangari.
Jane is not only a favourite of Epsom House, but has a soft spot for this Tasmanian ballroom in return. She speaks keenly of her last visit when the heavens opened in thunder, followed by the chirping of a happy bird. Tonight, she’s armed with enthusiasm, charisma and of course a flute that is played like a natural extension of her self. Teaming with Giuseppi, the two are a natural complement.
Giuseppi is exquisitely precise as his fingers deliver French Hispanic and tango rifts, looking up to Jane on occasion for final notes and playful interludes. Works by Piazzolla and Bizet flow between Jane’s engaging narratives. To have an acclaimed flautist who’s produced many a concert at the Sydney Opera House performing in Pontville seems as heavenly as the dessert interlude. It simply works – and those with a seat in the capacity-filled Ballroom know their fortune.
Back in December 1853, Epsom House was known as the Tasmanian Inn. The Courier reported of a concert where ‘inhabitants of the district mustered in strong force, and were so highly delighted that a general request to repeat it will be complied with at an early period.” Let’s hope the same applies today.
Words & images: Alice Hansen
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