'Just the start': At the World's Edge Festival director and violinist Justine Cormack


Two celebrated Kiwi violinists have lofty goals for their three-venue classical music festival, which climaxes with a Queenstown concert this Sunday afternoon.

Inspired by the stunning Central Lakes landscape, the inaugural At the World’s Edge Festival — or AWE, for short — takes places in Wānaka, Cromwell and Queenstown between Friday and Sunday.

It’s the brainchild of London-based Benjamin Baker and Justine Cormack, who’s nowadays based at Queensberry, next Wānaka.

Both world-class artists, they separately conceived of the festival at least three years ago after first meeting at the local- and Auckland-based Michael Hill International Violin Competition, when Cormack was a judge and Baker was a competitor.

‘‘The original idea is it’s the best international chamber musicians playing with the best New Zealand chamber musicians,’’ Cormack says.

‘‘Now, because of Covid, we’re starting with the NZ part, and we’ve absolutely got fabulous NZ musicians.’’

The handpicked artists performing alongside Cormack and Baker include violist Alex McFarlane (NZ), cellists Andrew Joyce (NZ/UK) and Alexandra Partridge (NZ/Australia) and violinist Marike Kruup (UK/Estonia).

NZ violist Gillian Ansell is standing in for an Australian who couldn’t make it, while Auckland pianist Sarah Watkins is in doubt due to that city’s Covid restrictions.

‘‘If she can’t make it, we’ve got a few contingencies,’’ Cormack says.

The AWE Festival also includes a Kiwi composer-in-residence, Salina Fisher, and a Wellington string quartet comprising ‘emerging artists’ — there was also due to be a similar quartet from Auckland.

The festival has three different but intertwined programmes — to interest people in following the full event — featuring works by friends Schumann, Brahms, Mendelssohn and Clara Wieck, as well as five works by Fisher, which Cormack says are ‘‘absolutely gorgeous’’.

The local concert’s in the Queenstown Memorial Centre, with the musicians set up on the wooden floor.

‘‘Honestly, the resonance of the floor transforms the sound.’’

Cormack says in contrast to Wānaka and Cromwell, there’s little tradition of chamber music in Queenstown, which she and Baker want to change.

‘‘People know they can come for the best of the outdoors, of food and wine and stuff, but I would love Queenstown and this area to be known for the highest level of arts and culture.’’

Her and Baker’s eventual goal for their festival is to have people coming from the other side of the world to attend.

Already, she says they’ve been blessed with great financial support from local and overseas
patrons, and community trusts.

That also supports a school programme in which several of the artists will perform to more than 2000 students in about 10 schools.

At the World’s Edge Festival, Queenstown Memorial Centre, October 17, 5pm, tickets $64.50 from eventfinda; capped at 100 due to Covid restrictions