Sydney Morning Herald JUNE 15, 2009 - by Bruce Elder


With Brian Eno's four-and-a-half-hour Pure Scenius concert in the Concert Hall, the sails of the Opera House lit by vast and beautiful projected images and a series of three performances of Fire Water at Campbells Cove, Sydney's first Vivid Festival drew to a dramatic and successful close last night.

It was, by any fair assessment, the Brian Eno Festival and, as such, it was an unambiguous triumph. With its centrepiece music festival Luminous at the Opera House, the Vivid Festival was conceived as an experiment which would, hopefully, become an annual event.

The winter months, according to both Richard Evans, chief executive of the Opera House, and Geoff Parmenter, chief executive of Events NSW, are a time when Sydney-siders stay inside and interstate and overseas visitors stay away from the Emerald City. So why not create a cultural magnet by putting on a festival of "music and light" which uses the Opera House and Circular Quay - two of the city's most iconic assets - as the setting?

The result: every night for the past two-and-a-half weeks musicians of unique virtuosity and originality have drawn new crowds to the Opera House.

Last night the success of the Vivid Festival was there for everyone to see. Crowds flocked to Campbells Cove to see Fire Water, an incendiary re-enactment of the burning of the Three Bees in 1814 by a pyromaniac cabin boy.

People set up their tripods and clicked away at Eno's ever-changing Lighting The Sails images on the Opera House. The three Pure Scenius concerts were sold out. And, over the course of the festival, more than two hundred thousand Sydney-siders and visitors gazed at Smart Light Sydney, a series of twenty-five low-wattage light sculptures stretching from the harbour foreshore through the Rocks and up to Observatory Hill.

As far as Evans and Parmenter are concerned Vivid has exceeded expectations. Evans explains: "There were thirteen thousand people watching as Lighting The Sails went live... In terms of ticket sales: in round numbers I wanted to sell about twenty thousand tickets. I reckon we will get to ninety-five per cent of that which, in year one, is a huge achievement especially in the current environment.

"There have been a number of sold-out shows. Battles, Ladytron, Reggie Watts, Lee Perry and Seun Kuti. There have been some big successes."

Perhaps most interesting is the fact that sixty per cent of the people who went to the Luminous concerts had never bought a ticket to the Opera House before and about five per cent of the ticket buyers came from overseas.

Who will be the curator next year? Geoff Parmenter says: "The key ingredients have to be maintained. So what are we going to do with the Opera House sails next year? Who is going to be the big name who curates it? Part of the beauty of Brian Eno having done such a terrific job is that he's going to be really helpful. There is probably no one on earth who has got a better network than Eno."

Given that Eno has been U2's most important producer, what about Bono? Bulgari sunglasses on the Opera House, anyone?