The Brisbane Baroque founder speaks out over suggestions the new music festival is unwanted and plagiarised.

Leo Schofield AM is to direct a new festival in celebration of the voice, which he describes as “sharp, highly focused, broad-reaching and unlike any other festival out there.” However, not everyone is singing the praises of the planned event, which is due to run for 11 days from July 28.

Announced by NSW Tourism Minister Stuart Ayers yesterday, the festival, called Sydney Sings, will feature a range of events including jazz performances, choral concerts and recitals by some of Australia’s top vocal artists. It will be funded by the State’s Tourism body, Destination NSW. However, the Sydney Morning Herald has suggested that “yet another taxpayer funded festival,” was an unnecessary addition to Sydney’s “crowded arts calendar.”  

Schofield shot down those assertions, saying, “You can never have too many [Festivals] as long as they’re good. People like them enormously. I can’t go into any detail just yet, but Sydney Sings has very few elements that you can find in any other Australian festival.”

Schofield is one of Australian arts’ most indefatigable and outspoken luminaries. The 80-year-old Brisbane Baroque founder is one of the nation’s most well-credentialed curators, having directed the Melbourne International Arts Festival, Sydney Festival and both the 2000 Summer Olympics and Paralympics Arts Festivals, to name just a few of his 23 festival directorships. However, one of Schofield’s more recent endeavours has led to a simmering feud with the people of Tasmania, after Schofield branded the island state a “land of dregs, bogans and third-generation morons,” following the defunding of the now Queensland-based Hobart Baroque (rebranded to reflect its new Brisbane home).

A second Sydney Morning Herald article attempted to stir up the tension between Schofield and Tasmania by suggesting that Sydney Sings was a close replica of the long-running, Hobart and Launceston-based Festival of Voices, which will finish just 11 days before the inaugural Sydney Sings. In an interview with SMH’s Deputy Arts Editor, Andrew Taylor, Festival of Voices director Tony Bonney said, “He did steal our idea,” adding “Bloody Leo, pretending to be a Tasmanian and look what he’s done.”

However, Schofield is confident that Sydney Sings will add something valuable and unique to the Australian arts scene. “Apart from the smaller community-based festival around the bonfire type thing down in Tasmania, there’s nothing like this one at all, I promise you,” adding that Sydney Sings should be considered as, “Australia’s International Festival of the Voice.”

Schofield’s track record with his Baroque festivals have demonstrated how a festival dedicated to a single genre can be successful, he believes. “There doesn’t have to be a bit of this and a bit of that. You don’t need it to be tooty-fruity. It can have a broad appeal without having mandatory components,” he said, adding “It’s going to be completely idiosyncratic. Of course, we’ll have choirs, but also individual artists and a wide spectrum of attractions. I think people will find it really quite eclectic.”

Sydney Sings runs from July 28 until August 7. Details of the programme are due to be released in March.

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