OPINION: It is, according to Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Chris Finlayson, world class - one of this country's national treasures. It is also as Nelson as it gets, even though huge support comes from Wellington, and it attracts people from all over the world.
The Adam Chamber Music Festival might not excite the same fuss and attention as participation in the Rugby World Cup did in 2011. It does, however, generate a far better return on council investment - perhaps six times greater.
The Nelson City Council now puts $70,000 into supporting the biennial festival - up on the $40,000 of last time round. Estimated impact on the Nelson economy is $2.3 million. Further, about two thirds of the 3000-strong total audience is from out of town - meaning the bulk of the spending is generated from outside of the region, and all the more welcome for that.
Other key backers are Wellington arts philanthropists Denis and Verna Adam, whose charitable foundation has been the main sponsor for many years. And while people travel from as far off as Denmark, Britain and Germany, every two years, to see the event, a significant share of the audience crosses from the capital.
Does this represent some small payback for the loss of the World of WearableArts award shows to Wellington? Perhaps not. A chamber music festival is unlikely ever to reach the level of popular appeal as that unique event. However, culture buffs can take some quiet satisfaction in the way that the Adam has grown in stature and importance over some 22 years. Nelson people also might feel greater pride that their region is recognised so fondly by performers and lovers of this specialist musical genre.
Complacency can be a curse, but it seems unlikely that the festival will ever be taken from the city. Two key factors in its success are the Nelson School of Music auditorium, said to be the finest in the southern hemisphere for chamber music, and the availability of the city's splendid cathedral as a second venue. Another is the region itself: Small enough to be accessible, with the appropriate art, wine, food, boutique beer and scenic attractions to keep discerning visitors interested, and spending, when they're not immersed in music.
Performers also talk of being thrilled by the responsive and knowledgeable audiences they get in Nelson. Live music is a two-way street, and informed feedback can be very affirming for musicians.
Another feature of the festival is the way it encourages musical collaborations and unusual combinations. Being so specialist, it attracts the best. And, as it is a one-off rather than part of a national circuit, enthusiastic fans have to travel here to be a part of it.
One mistake local people can make is to regard the festival as elitist, snooty, unfathomable even, and consequently not for them. How often do we get the opportunity to hear musicians regarded as among the very best in their genre, performing live and just a few minutes' drive from our lounge? It's often pointed out that council spending on art and culture suffers by comparison with the sport-spend. The success of the Adam festival suggests the need for objective analysis when slim budgets are carved up.
- The Nelson Mail