It takes a visiting musical ensemble from Australia to remind us how much we love our arts and culture on the Coast.

Last Sunday, a uniquely blended Australian group, Winds of the Southern Cross, gave a stellar performance before a full house at the Raven’s Cry Theatre as part of the Coast Recital Society’s 2007/08 season. There is no musical group quite like them; they combine piano, bassoon, clarinet, oboe, French horn and soprano vocals to perform a mostly classical repertoire that includes their favourites, Mozart and Ravel, with a touch of Gershwin jazz.

At a pre-concert talk, clarinettist and director Paul Dean described how their style of chamber music is supported — or not — in their home country, and he praised the efforts of Vancouver impresario George Zukerman for his concert organization in Canada.

The group performed in Sechelt 10 years ago in a whirlwind tour that encompassed several countries. “It took our tour of Canada to put us on the map in Australia,” said Dean.

This year, after fighting ferry-stopping windstorms, snow and cold, the group recently gave two concerts in Vernon that sold 1,300 tickets. “There’s no town of that size in Australia that would sell that much,” said Dean. He described playing a theatre in Australia that seated over 1,000, with only 40 people turning out.

The group decided to strategize and began a program in the schools as a way to reach the kids and involve their parents. “We’ve had to rebuild a network that you are so lucky to have here,” he said.

Sunday’s performance included Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Winds in E flat Major, composed in 1784 in what was likely a daring move for the time since it included non-evolved wind instruments. Each instrument has its chance to shine in this piece. The group’s more original work truly showed in Songs for the Shadowland, composed by Australian artist Paul Stanhope. In this work, he has set poems by indigenous Australian poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal that conjure up mournful images of ancient peoples wailing for their ancestors. Soprano Margaret Schindler read the words of this simple, eloquent poetry before she sang, giving the audience greater understanding of its meaning.

Schindler was joined by Shefali Pryor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra on oboe, Kevin Power, musical director of the Queensland Choir, on piano, Peter Luff on French horn and Leesa Dean on bassoon, both teachers at the Queensland Conservatorium, in a program of selections by Maurice Ravel including five Greek folk songs and his work, Le Tombeau de Couperin.

For a surprise encore, director Paul Dean swung his clarinet on high to capture that long opening note of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue while Schindler accompanied with a few 1930s show tunes.

In addition to the Sunday recital, the group also performed at Christenson Village care home on Monday morning, to the great delight of senior residents.