Artistic Director Leo Schofield,
CEO Destination NSW Sandra Chipchase, Jonathan O'Dea MP, and Jarrod Carland
I can’t see without my glasses. In fact, you can stand our best friends in front of me and I wouldn’t recognise them unless we were nose to nose, which is exactly what happened this morning when I ran into our next door neighbor, Rob, at the bus stop. Literally. Faced with the choice of making the dash back home for my specs or jumping on the approaching 339 with Rob, I chose the latter. Surrendering to my blurry fate, at least I would arrive on time for the launch of Sydney’s newest festival, Sydney Sings.
Hopping off four stops too soon, I hightailed it the rest of the way to the City Recital Hall at Angel Place, which I managed to find thanks to the kindness of strangers. While media and PR people schmoozed at the entrance to their hearts content, I quietly took my place second row from the front, right behind Leo Schofield. Proceedings opened with Sydney soprano Amelia Farrugia, resplendent in a gold sheath, belting out decibel levels in Bernstein’s stratospheric “Glitter and be Gay” that could shatter glass, leaving little doubt that Sydney Sings will be all about the voice.
The brainchild of arts gurus Leo Schofield and Jarrod Carland, Sydney Sings is designed to fill what Schofield described as “a fallow period” in Sydney’s arts calendar. Showcasing the finest Australian and international vocal talent at venues large and small, traditional and unexpected, from the Sydney CBD to Western Sydney, Sydney Sings is an exciting new concept that will include all genres of vocal performance, from musical theatre to choirs, jazz, liturgical music and solo performances with more than 700 performers expected to participate.
Schofield says, "A fellow festival director once described the program for one of my festivals as highbrow, lowbrow, middlebrow and no brow." He added, "I don't think it was meant as a compliment but I take it as one in the hope that audiences of every stripe may find something of interest in our program for this exciting new event."
Speaking of audiences of every stripe, one of the highlights of the festival will feature a shower set-up in Martin Place, in Sydney’s CBD, giving amateur singers the opportunity to perform to a lunchtime crowd. Contestants will be judged, with the winner given a bathroom makeover, Schofield says. "When one thinks about it, a good deal of vocalising goes on in the privacy of bathrooms but we want talented amateur singers to burst out of the bathroom and perform to a wider audience."
Other highlights of the inaugural Sydney Sings festival feature a 600-person choir belting out Carmina Burana, US soprano Jessye Norman, Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Choir, and the Soweto Gospel Choir. Performing at St Mary’s Cathedral at midnight, the St Petersburg Chamber Choir are scheduled to perform two liturgical works by Sergei Rachmaninoff, including the composer's All-Night Vigil, which Schofield describes as one of the most challenging a cappella works and "the crowning achievement of Russian Orthodox choral music".
Sydney Sings is scheduled to begin on July 28, just 11 days after Tasmania's long-running Festival of Voices, leading to accusations of Schofield having stolen Tasmania’s idea for Sydney. But Schofield said Sydney Sings will be nothing like the Tasmanian festival, which he called "very nice, very friendly and more community-oriented".
Begged, borrowed, stolen or not, who cares. Yours truly was in Seventh Heaven by the end of the Sydney Sings launch, as Sydney Philharmonia Choir’s VOX presented Sally Whitwell's arrangement of Rufus Wainwright's “The Tower of Learning”.
When the tickets go on sale tomorrow, I’ll be booking 2 tickets to Sydney Sings’ debut, the Grand Gala Concert in Sydney Town Hall featuring four hundred young singers from the combined Gondwana Choirs, including a major new work written for the acclaimed Gondwana Indigenous Children’s Choir. And that’s just for starters. I’ll happily leave my glasses at home any day for the chance to be carried away on the wings of song.