The lively Sydney venue will host an eclectic line-up in 2017 from classical concerts to an illuminated sound bubble.

Sydney’s City Recital Hall has launched its programme for 2017 and, for the first time, 60 of the 200 concerts and events are being presented by the Company that runs the venue.

Speak Percussion will perform Fluorophone as part of a series called Unashamedly Original. Photo by LASALLE

The decision to present its own artistic programme is part of a bold new vision for City Recital Hall, designed to transform the ‘hidden gem’ into an ever-more vibrant venue and to play a more active role in the music and broader arts scene.

And so alongside the offerings from the venue’s key presenters, including the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Australian String Quartet, Musica Viva, Pinchgut Opera, Sydney Festival and Sydney Symphony Orchestra, there are several new music series including a late-night supper club, two productions for children, the world premiere of a unique, multisensory work called Seven Stories, and a spectacular installation in the foyer called Sound Bubble.

Speaking to Limelight, Elaine Chia, Chief Executive Officer at CRH since January 2016, says: “It is very much about us thinking broadly how we pull [the annual programme] all together, and how we look at audience development, so for us the direction is about being more cohesive about the celebration of music in all its styles and genres.”

City Recital Hall is an independent, not-for-profit company, established by the City of Sydney. “Our principal sponsor is the City, but in terms of our own independence, it’s right across the board. Our decision-making is by the Board, along with myself,” says Chia. “We’ve been really clear about how we make it work as a new company. We have the stability of being [established for] 16 years with really loyal companies who present here. So that’s really where we’ve started – to build our programme around what they’re already offering, and saying, how do we actually provide some contrast and colour to that.”

Australian composer Bree van Reyk will be one of the collaborators in Seven Stories. Photo: City Recital Hall

One of the highlights of CRH’s own artistic programme is the world premiere of Seven Stories on June 3. “That’s one I’m very proud of,” admits Chia. “Ensemble Offspring and [its Artistic Director] Claire Edwardes and I have known each for many years. We had a talk when I started, when I spoke to as many music organisations as I could. She came to me with an idea for the 2017 season for Ensemble Offspring, and I said how: ‘about City Recital Hall becomes a presenting partner with you?’ So much of the work that these organisations do is fantastic. They get funded for creative development, but they don’t necessarily get the secure, guaranteed performance at the end. When Claire said ‘it’s called Seven Stories, and it’s about myth, and our existence being distilled into these [seven archetypal] narratives, you just go ‘wow, this just sounds fantastic’,” says Chia.

The multisensory collaboration combines music, storytelling and film. It brings seven female Australian composers – Amanda Brown, Kyls Burtland, Jodi Phillis, Jane Sheldon, Bree Van Reyk, Sally Whitewell and Caitlin Yeo – together with musicians from Ensemble Offspring, playwright Hilary Bell and video artist Sarah-Jane Woulahan, who will weave together seven stoires to present the world from a female perspective.

“I really love Ensemble Offspring’s work, because, at times, it’s experimental, but it’s also very accessible. So the fact that Claire has then able to pull in people from popular music and contemporary music and other areas, and also have Hilary Bell on board, is really exciting. It’s going to touch a lot of different points, in terms of your listening and viewing experience,” says Chia.

Sound Bubble. Photo: City Recital Hall

In an attempt to draw a new audience, CRH is also presenting a number of events in the foyer including a spectacular light and sound installation called Sound Bubble for 11 days in June. Created by Damian Barbeler and John Taylor, it is part intelligent lifeform, part multimedia installation and part experimental performance space.

“It’s three metres by three metres. It like one of those clear, plastic bubbles that you blow up, like a balloon, but it’s a cube,” says Chia. “It’s got a zip, and inside, Damien and John fill it with balloons, and then they put sensors in each of the walls, so it can be in an interactive mode. So if you walk past it, it senses a movement and it will trigger coloured lights and will start to play music. They’re both composers, so it’s like it’s got an artificial brain.

“I’ve seen Sound Bubble, and the kids absolutely love it, they come up and put their face right against it. The wonderful thing is you can put a string quartet inside or anything you want. So, we’re going to put some performers in there. The idea is that it will be here in interactive mode in the foyer, and the foyer will be open for that entire period during the day. We’re thinking we’ll run some sort of online registration where members of the public might want their minute inside the bubble, which will be a complete Instagram moment,” adds Chia.

Another event in next year’s programme designed to activate the foyer area is a supper-club series called 2×20, which will take place at ten o’ clock once a month, with tables, a bar and a piano transforming the space. Andrew Bukenya will host and Bev Kennedy will be the Musical Director.

George Ellis and George Washingmachine in The Conductor and the Clown. Photo by Peter Gahan

The venue’s popular Lunchtime Music Series is being expanded, there is a lunchtime talks programme exploring the intersection of science and music, and CRH’s first children’s programme featuring two productions. In April, conductor George Ellis and musician George Washingmachine perform The Conductor and the Clown, a mini symphony show designed for kids aged 4 – 12, featuring music by Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, along with lots of physical comedy. Then in July, Murry Cook (aka the Red Wiggle) will narrate Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, conducted by Ellis.

Another unusual event will be Sydney Flash Mob Choir, conducted by Richard Gill. Anyone in Sydney who feels like singing is invited to form a spontaneous choir. You register (it’s free), you get an SMS with a date and a time, you turn up and sing, and then it’s over, until the next time.

Lovers of original music can immerse themselves in a weekend festival of new, contemporary works in July called Unashamedly Original. Highlights will include Speak Percussion’s Fluorophone, where fluorescent lights and naked flames combine with percussion, and an event at which visual artist Wendy Sharpe joins forces with the Australian Art Quartet to recreate William Hogarth’s The Enraged Musicians.

The Black Arm Band. Photo by Sara Walker

There will be a number of milestone concerts during the year celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Black Arm Band, the 20th anniversary of Gondwana Voices, the 20th anniversary of Taikoz and also composer Elena Kats-Chernin’s 60th birthday. “I had a little bit laugh because at one point we were thinking, ‘did we become the birthday venue?’” quips Chia.

Other artists appearing as part of CRH’s own artistic programme include Paris Combo with their unique blend of gypsy jazz, French chanson and Latin rhythm, the Grigoryan Brothers, singer Katie Noonan and guitarist Karin Schaupp in their latest co-creation, Songs of Latin Skies, in which they journey through Latin classics, and soprano Amelia Farrugia in Diva – a humorous celebration of Australian divas June Bronhill and Dame Joan Sutherland.

“We’ve been really thrilled to have so many people imagine that they can do something here with us, and help us lift the profile of the venue,” says Chia. “It’s about making sure that the venue is utilised across as many styles of music as possible so that people can come here for different kinds of experiences.”


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