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House music

House music
Illustration by Daniel New
Annabelle Hickson
Annabelle Hickson Tenterfield, NSW
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One man transformed his frustrated musical obsession into a world-class concert room where grand pianos are surrounded by rainforest and birdsong.

IT'S concert night and a stream of cars winds its way through the rainforest, along a narrow driveway leading to a house on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast hinterland. It’s the family home of piano junkie Ian Lucas, where he lives with his wife, Lee, and four grand pianos. “You should never have to walk too far to find a piano on a hot day,” Lucas says. 

Tonight, he will put on his dinner jacket and stand on the verandah with a glass of wine in hand, welcoming guests who have come to hear Russian concert pianist Konstantin Shamray play the notoriously challenging Piano Concerto No. 3 by Rachmaninov. Lucas loves playing the piano, but he loves watching brilliant musicians like Shamray even more.

In the car park, local teenager Ben McDonald is guiding cars to available spots before the concert starts. For months, the 19-year-old has been practising piano for nine hours a day, preparing for his audition to the Elder Conservatorium of Music in Adelaide, where Shamray teaches. His dream is to become Shamray’s student. He’s close. “It’s all because of Ian Lucas,” McDonald says. “It’s all because of this place.”

Lucas’s concert hall is a room full of natural light with large windows framing the rainforest behind. In it are two pianos — an Emerald Series Model B Classic Steinway and a Kawai baby grand — nested together, encircled by 150 chairs. No chair is more than 10 metres from the pianos, some as close as two. It’s an unusual world-class venue in that the bird­song is almost as loud as the chatter from the crowd. It is strikingly intimate.

Lucas, 65, bought the Montville property with a dream to build a performance venue for both international artists and young, talented musicians. He wanted to make a place for music that wasn’t about mega performances but something akin to hausmusik, the predominately German tradition of amateur and professional musicmaking in the family home.

“House concerts — chamber music — used to be completely normal,” says Lucas. “Chopin and Liszt would have played half of their concerts in someone’s home. It wasn’t until venues like London’s Royal Albert Hall were built, with 10,000 seats, when they suddenly realised, well, we can make more money out of this. But normally, it was always done in a small setting.”

“You should never have to walk too far to find a piano on a hot day.”

Lucas hosted his first house concert here in 2007, converting what was then a verandah into a 70-seat room after he heard legendary pianist Pascal Rogé was in the country, looking to do some house concerts.

“We’d only just bought the place, but I jumped at the opportunity, booked Pascal, and then encouraged the builders to get the room up in time, so he could come play in it. That’s where it started. And it worked.”

Before long, Lucas wanted more space for the con­certs and built a bigger room, connected to the house, where Shamray will play tonight. Lucas sees small, world-class venues like this as an important tool to support upcoming musicians.

“You know The Three Tenors? Well, they almost wrecked music performance for the average very good player; the very good player who was not a celebrity or a great player. Suddenly all the promoters got in and if you couldn’t sell 10,000 CDs and you couldn’t be broad­cast around the world, if you couldn’t fill the great opera houses or a 10,000-seat auditorium night after night, you weren’t wanted.

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