Aurora Festival shines a new dawn in the west

Synergy Percussion

For most of us, the sun rises in the east. For contemporary music fans, dawn happens in Sydney’s west where the aptly named Aurora Festival of Living Music launches on May 4th.

Running till the 13th of May the 4th Aurora festival is one of the few arenas which gives voice to living Australian composers of contemporary chamber music. Inaugurated in 2006 by composer and music educator Dr Matthew Hindson AM, the festival features contemporary classical repertoire as well as art and experimental music and sound art. It also aims to broaden the audience base for new music by selecting venues in the outer western suburbs, Sydney’s geographic and demographic hubs.

After running three festivals over 6 years, Hindson has handed over his role to Andrew Batt-Rawden who took over as director of the festival in 2010 with a 2 year lead.  His inaugural Aurora festival features 17 events, and more than 120 artistes from Australia and around the world. As well as performances there are forums and workshops and the Australian premieres of some works. Batt-Rawden says: ““Our 2012 program offers audiences an exclusive and compelling selection of music, unusual to Sydney. The work is bold, provocative, and sometimes outrageous. We have access to some beautiful venues here and we’reinviting Sydney to come and engage with new and unique musical experiences, these moments can be life changing”.

These venues include the traditional – like the Joan Sutherland performing Arts Centre in Penrith, St Finbar’s Catholic Church in Glenbrook and Parramatta’s Riverside Theatre- and the offbeat, like the Casula Powerhouse.

Whilst the ideas behind the music may be new to Sydney, on second glance they underscore the relevance of contemporary music to life in the 21st century. There is a Pocket Gamelan for Mobile Phones, created by electronics master Greg Schiemer who has networked a set of mobiles phones and programmed them with music software to be played by a group of non-trained musicians. ‘Collaboration’, ‘easy to play’, ‘quick to learn’ and ‘accessible to many’ are the buzz words here.

Opening the festival is a sonic-art performance by Super Critical Mass directed by Julian Day and involving 60 musicians from the region.

Then there’s Japanese ‘noisition’ Merzbow The King of Noise, whose performances are improvisations of extreme noise. Merzbow will be joined by experimental composer Oren Ambarchi to form Noise Duo on the final night of the festival. Synergy Percussion, Zane Banks and Daniel Blinkhorn are some of the other featured artists.

Sometimes moving forwards entails looking back to where we came from. Recorder player Alicia Crossley will be featured in a workshop and performance with these earliest of instruments; Marshall McGuire brings the harp into the 21st century; and Chamber Made Opera presents Minotaur The Island, composed by David Young, with libretto and direction by Margaret Cameron in an elaboration of Monteverdi’s lost masterpiece from 1608, L’Arianna.

The focus is not just on performance with two critical interactive industry forums that look at the business aspects of being a musician. The Australian Music Centre’s John Davis will host a discussion on ‘Supporting Emerging Composers in Australia’ and Batt-Rawden will chair one on ‘Sustainable New Music Business Models’ hosted by Batt- Rawden.

The Aurora Festival kicks off on Friday May 4th at 7.30 with an opening night party that follows the Super Critical Mass Sonic Art performance. Opening the celebrations at the Blacktown Arts Centre will be the Mayor of Blacktown, Alan Pendleton. This is a free event and tickets are limited. To attend, please register your details at or  call 02 93511939.

The festival has free and ticketed events. Tickets range from $10 -$40 and are available through participating venues. For booking information and the full programme visit




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