Circus Maximus

19 August 2011

Performance Information:

Two performances only - 3pm and 7pm

Tickets: $30 full; $25 sen./conc.; $20 Friends of The Con; $10 student/child
(booking fees may apply)

Buy tickets online from City Recital Hall Angel Place

Media Release:

CIRCUS MAXIMUS, one of the highlights of this year's Art&About Sydney festival, is a musical work that has never been performed in Australia and only very rarely elsewhere in the world, because of the sheer scale and the number of musicians required to stage it.

It is a unique experience for the audience, who are literally surrounded, almost enveloped, by the music.The Con's Wind Symphony, mainly outstanding tertiary music students, will play on the main stage of the Town Hall but there are also eleven trumpeters, a saxophone quartet and other musicians strategically positioned all around the auditorium at the balcony level.Later in the piece, the Australian Army Band will strike up at the main entrance and march down the aisle toward the stage.

There is great variety in the work: it starts with a roar and fades to a whisper; it can be as loud and strident as a rock concert and then as gentle and beguiling as the soundscape of a forest at night. Different styles of music compete for primacy: there are hunting calls, circus razzamatazz, jaunty military tattoos and haunting jazz melodies.

It is one of the masterworks of leading American composer, John Corigliano, winner of an Oscar (for The Red Violin), a Grawemeyer Award, three Grammys and a Pulitzer Prize. Corigliano visited Sydney in 2009 as the inaugural international marquee composer in the visionary project of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music's Dean, Professor Kim Walker, to commission 101 new works from a wide range of composers, from the greatest to the newest, to celebrate the centenary of The Con in 2015.

Walker and Corigliano agreed then that, if there was ever a chance to perform CIRCUS MAXIMUS in Sydney, they'd jump at it. The opportunity arose when City of Sydney's Council supported Dean Walker's proposal to make the magnificent, recently restored Town Hall available for two performances on Saturday 8 October. They will be staged as part of the city's premier spring festival, Art & About, which specialises in bringing art of all disciplines to a broader audience in unconventional spaces.

The original Circus Maximus was Rome's great open-air auditorium, where up to a quarter of the city's one million inhabitants could gather to watch spectacular parades, gladiatorial combat or four-horse chariot races at breakneck speed. This is how Corigliano explains the connection with his piece of music: "Circus Maximus is a parable of our time. Just as in ancient Rome, the Circus Maximus entertained people while civilization around them started to fall, so, in our time, do our iPods, computers, TV, films and PlayStations distract us from the serious changes in the world around us. The technology that brought us all this entertainment also brought us a suitcase bomb that can level a city. So we turn to the thrilling technology of today to keep us from feeling the fear that this technology has made possible. Circus Maximus both celebrates and warns of the future. It's great fun to hear, with its surround instruments, but it's also chilling."

Professor Kim Walker is delighted to have succeeded in staging this colossal masterpiece by one of the world's most celebrated composers in the final year of her tenure as Dean of The Con:

"I have long wanted to hear CIRCUS MAXIMUS live and we are very proud to premiere such a stupendous work, to be performed by our stellar Wind Ensemble. Sydney Town Hall is the best possible venue for this all-encompassing family concert and we are enormously grateful to the Lord Mayor and the Council for allowing us to stage it here.

"Also in the program is John Corigliano's setting for pierrot ensemble of Bob Dylan's lyrics, Mr Tambourine Man, which was the very first of our 101 Compositions for 100 Years. My hope is that this event will bring together different generations of Sydneysiders, who may be lovers of many different genres of music, in one spectacular and unforgettable musical celebration."

The first half of the concert showcases some other exceptional talents from the Sydney Conservatorium and the Australian Army Band and the Sydney Town Hall's magnificent organ.

The concert opens with Con Master's graduate organist, Grace Lee, playing Australian composer, Graham Koehne's Gothic Toccata, a challenging work originally commissioned in 1983 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Sydney Opera House.

The youngest performer in the concert, York Yu (13), is a member of the Conservatorium Open Academy's Rising Stars, a performance-based program for gifted young musicians aged between 5 and 18. York will perform Franz Liszt's fiendishly difficult piano piece, La Campanella, inspired by the virtuoso violin-playing of Niccol├│ Paganini, so-named because the fast trills sound like little bells.

The major work of the first half is Corigliano's version of Mr Tambourine Man, which never fails to baffle Bob Dylan fans expecting the familiar tunes made famous by the great balladeer: Corigliano has used only Dylan's lyrics, set to his own music, which is very different from the Dylan songs but nonetheless fascinating.

The first half of the concert will come to a rousing finale with the pipers of the Australian Army Band performing a pipe medley of Scottish airs comprising Fraser's Day, Steam Train to Mallaig and Highland Cathedral.

Then it will be time for the audience to settle back to savour a musical experience on the grand scale, the first-ever performance in Australia of John Corigliano's many-mooded monsterpiece, CIRCUS MAXIMUS.

To make the concert available to as wide an age-range as possible, there will be two performances, at 3.00pm and 7.00pm.

Contact: Mick Le Moignan

Phone: 02 9351 1385

Email: 370b0b31792d280a5b21173f181f363411023c33035d3f154c612e20