January. It’s a good month to spend in Sydney. The frenzy of Christmas is over; New Year has been cast off with a stretch and a yawn. It’s time to sniff the air of what’s new and enjoy the unbridled ‘eclecticosm’ of Sydney in January before the relative safety of the year’s subscription series.
Top amongst the month’s highlights are offerings from the Sydney Festival. It’s a final opportunity to hear the Hilliard Ensemble. The British vocal quartet founded in 1973 is giving its farewell concerts in Australia. Together, its core members countertenor David James, tenors Rogers Covey-Crump and Steven Harrold and baritone Gordon Jones have earned a formidable reputation for their performance of both early and new music. Their recordings have won high acclaim including the Diapason d’Or and Schallplattenkritik Awards.
In their first Sydney concert in the Great Hall of Sydney University, (repeated over two nights), they will sing a collection of the music for which they have become famous, from early polyphony to contemporary works. The Hilliard Songbook includes works by Cornish, Pérotin, Desprez and their close collaborator Arvo Pärt as well as the world premiere of Three Japanese Songs by Toshio Hosakawa. The following night they perform at the City Recital Hall with viol ensemble Consort Eclectus, presenting works by John Dowland, Nico Muhly and Gavin Bryars, amongst others.
Also from the early music scene, the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin is a ‘must hear’. Led from the violin by Concertmaster Georg Kallweit who is joined by solo violinist Elfa Run Kristinsdottir, this multiple award-winning ensemble will perform a treasury of Baroque classics in their stand -alone concert whilst they also serve as the band for the highly anticipated production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. Berlin based dance-theatre director Sasha Waltz casts both an actor and a singer in each role. The set features a spectacular giant water tank, intended to underscore Dido’s sea journey, and the concept of a lost culture. Attilio Cremonesi is in charge of musical production and reconstruction, with musical direction by Christopher Moulds and the chorus from the Vocalconsort Berlin. Dido is played by mezzo-soprano Aurore Ugolin and dancers Yael Schnell and Michal Mualem. Aeneas is sung by Reuben Willcox and danced by Virgis Puodziunas.
If the skies are clear, the planets could be as visible as they are audible for Symphony in the Domain when Simone Young conducts the Sydney Symphony Orchestra performing Gustav Holst’s The Planets, with readings by Bell Shakespeare’s John Bell. Take a picnic or ride your bike, this annual fixture in the Sydney calendar is free and presented en plein air capped off with a quintessentially Sydney-in-summer fireworks fest.
If grand opera is for you, consider Opera Australia’s The Turk in Italy, with Simon Phillips directing Emma Matthews as Fiorilla and Conal Coad as Geronio.
With the curtain falling on the Sydney Festival, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra returns to the concert hall at the end of January and into February, welcoming violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter playing 3 violin concertos by Mozart, coinciding with the great man’s 258th birthday which falls on January 27th.
If this is all too hedonistic, consider retreating to the simplicity and intimacy of the annual series of orchestral masses presented by the Choir of St James’ Church, King Street, conducted by Warren Trevelyan-Jones. As part of their weekly 10 am liturgical programme, the choir will perform masses by Mozart (Missa Brevis in F on Sunday 12th January), Gjeilo (Sunrise Mass on Sunday 19th January) and Haydn (Creation Mass on Sunday 26th January).