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Come to Sydney! It’s only 22 hours away!

By Joseph Toltz

Excitement is building as all the elements come together for the fourth “Out of the Shadows” festival, to be held in Sydney from 5-13 August 2017.  The festival begins with a gala opening night, featuring dance works written by Jewish artists in exile.  Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s last collaboration, The Seven Deadly Sins, will be directed by Chryssy Tintner, daughter of the refugee composer and conductor, Georg Tintner. Georg’s composition “Trauermusik”, composed in 1939 and rearranged for full orchestra in the 1950s, will be performed, along with dance works commissioned by the Bodenwieser Ballet, who found safe haven in Australia during the war years.  In fact, the Bodenwieser Ballet danced on the very same stage that many of our artists will tread, during the week.  Two new chamber orchestra arrangements by Sydney Conservatorium composition students Aidan Rosa and Ian Whitney will transform this music, while Benjamin Hancock, a great solo dancer from Melbourne, is choreographing a solo dance piece to accompany Simon Parmet’s 1934 Dybbuk incidental music, found by Simo Muir during his research in Helsinki.

Red-Riding-Hood has proven to be a joyful experience. In the first week of July, thirty younger choristers from the Sydney Children’s Choir transformed into enthusiastic bunnies, woodsmen and fairies, with the eponymous Red and Wolf rounding out the cast. We danced, sang, moved around and had a great deal of fun, with superb choral leadership from Atalya Masi, brilliant direction from Christopher Harley, outstanding piano work from Owen Elsley and terrific choreography from Ana Maria Belo.  We cannot wait to hear the SSO Fellows add their special magic.

Two composition students have been testing their works in sound-checks for the Festival.  Daniel Biederman’s The Last Renaissance Man tells the story of Dr Solomon Bard, a Jewish musician who found himself imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp during the war.  Biederman has commissioned an oil-drum cello for the occasion, and Nils Hobiger has been testing out the unusual sound.  Solomon Frank’s work Peripherals utilises manipulated recorded sound of the instruments performed by his grandparents, and his great-uncle, a refugee Polish-Jewish violinist in Central Asia during the war, and a member of the SSO for many years.

Lisa Peschel and Ian Maxwell (Theatre & Performance Studies, University of Sydney) have begun shaping the narrative arc of Prince Bettliegend. A stellar cast of repertory actors are appearing in this, with brilliant arrangements from Kevin Hunt (Jazz Studies), who is leading a 7-piece student band for this, and for The Merchants of Helsinki.  This cabaret, researched by Simo Muir, has been transformed for Sydney audiences by Joanna Weinberg and Geoff Sirmai, two of the most beloved Jewish entertainers in town. They’ve brought in two exceptional young talents: Dani Mirels and Doron Chester.  It’s going to be a side-splitting evening!

Choral work is continuing apace with VOX and Luminescence working hard on gems from the Jewish liturgical repertoire, discovered by Steve Muir.  I spent a couple of hours yesterday with Sefa Laga’aia, a brilliant 18-year old tenor who will be singing the cantorial solos for VOX.  It was great to discuss stylistic delivery of this material with him, and I can’t wait to hear him and the whole ensemble.  Meanwhile, one of Australia’s finest organists, David Drury, is preparing for his first rehearsal on the Verbrugghen organ, as he explores the repertoire of the Wurzburger family – Walter, transported as an ‘enemy alien’ to Australia in 1940, and his father Siegfried, a renowned organist, who died tragically in the Lodz Ghetto in 1942 after deportation from his native Frankfurt.  Bringing Wurzburger repertoire back to Australia is particularly meaningful for me, and the family are looking forward to seeing the performances.

There is so much more to tell about the activities on the ground, but we will have to wait for another newsletter to reflect on the highs of the performances.  The Sydney Festival could not function without the tireless, generous and enthusiastic work undertaken by my Festival Manager, Jain Moralee.  She goes above and beyond.  So a special thanks to her, and to all the team around the world for making this a truly spectacular event.


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