INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Age FEBRUARY 29, 2012 - by Bernard Zuel
TIME TO FACE THE MUSIC: CHANGES LEAVE VIVID CONFIDENT OF BRIGHT FUTURE
The days of the artist-curated festival are over at the Sydney Opera House.
For three years, Vivid Live, the live music component of the Vivid Festival (the city-wide program subtitled "a festival of light, music and ideas") was a reflection of a singular, if not idiosyncratic, curator who took over all the performance spaces at the Opera House.
Brian Eno, the inaugural curator in 2009, was followed by the New York alternative music/arts couple Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed, while last year's festival was the baby of local promoter and label head Steve Pavlovic.
Between them they offered art-and-music exhibitions and ensemble works, nights of extreme noise or utter quiet and even a show heard only by dogs.
This year, however, the Opera House will bring the festival in-house, to be more of an extension of its year-round programming in contemporary music, a sometimes controversial but so far successful strategy to rebrand the venue as more than a centre for high culture. As such, Vivid Live will fall under the aegis of the head of contemporary music at the Opera House, Fergus Linehan.
"The sort of people we were approaching, a lot of them really wanted to do a special project, to do something they couldn't normally do rather than program thirty different things," Linehan explains. "And even the people who did, there was such a time commitment and a geographical challenge that it meant we ended up with a lot of people who would have loved to do something but wouldn't do the whole thing."
Another problem addressed by this change is that the Opera House can enter into conversations with artists two to three years out. That's the kind of timeframe needed for most significant projects across the arts (such as Bjork's multimedia and multi-technology project Biophilia, which premiered in Manchester last year and is on Linehan's wish-list). But it had proved impossible to achieve while there was a new curator coming in midway through each year and starting at ground zero.
"I don't think that Vivid Live would have got off the ground as strongly as it did without the guest curator model," Linehan says.
"[But] most people want to come over and do something special because they are at the Opera House - that is what most artists want."
While the full program will be announced on March 15, one component is now known, a three-way commission with the Barbican in London and Muziekgebouw in Eindhoven for a major work by the trio of songwriter and composer Sufjan Stevens, composer and arranger Nico Muhly, and composer and producer Bryce Dessner of the band The National.
"It's all new music for an evening and you really want that in the context of the festival because within a festival people are far more open to the new and it places the audience in a mood of discovery and openness," says Linehan, who hints strongly that all three will likely appear in other shows during Vivid Live.
He admits that part of the reason for the announcement of the curatorial change a few weeks ahead of the unveiling of the full Vivid program is to get ahead of some of the anticipated criticism and commentary.