Few music venues have as eclectic an approach to programming as Melbourne Recital Centre. From opera and orchestral concerts to live bands and DJs, the Southbank arts hub has something for everyone.
“We’ve always prided ourselves on the breadth of our program,” says director of programming Marshall McGuire, who’s been with the centre for eight years. “Hello Kitty, New Zealand pop stars, The Wiggles – you can get all that, and also performances from people you’ve probably never heard of that are truly amazing.”
Its latest season, themed “Haven” (think music experiences that “heal and create a space for reflection”, according to McGuire), is a diverse mix of classical virtuosos, electronic music backed by mesmerising projections, spellbinding choirs, and more.
The question is, how do you choose what to see? AFL fan McGuire likens it to going to his first rugby league match.
“I didn’t know the language, didn’t quite know when you’re meant to cheer or not, but I went with people that guided me through that. My advice would be don’t do it alone – go with someone that loves music.”
Here are some of his top picks for the season.
Songs for Freedom
Songs for Freedom is part-concert, part-campaign, and all heart. It features original songs that blend blues, soul and country, created by Ngarluma and Yindjibarndi artists in the Pilbara town of Ieramugadu/Roebourne in WA, and highlights the high incarceration rates of Aboriginal children in Australian prisons. It’s taking place on Friday September 15, in partnership with arts and social change organisation Big Hart. Featuring special guests from around this country, Songs for Freedom tells stories of the striking beauty of this vast place and its people.
“We’re bringing a huge number of people down to tell their stories,” McGuire tells Broadsheet. “We’ve been supporting First Nations music and storytelling and particularly language for a number of years – this is a continuation of our support.”
Eliza Hull & Liz Martin: Into the Space Between the Notes
Songwriter and disability advocate Eliza Hull’s songs have been featured on ABC Kids TV, The Heights, and in US shows Awkward, Teen Wolf and Saving Hope, while Liz Martin began playing acoustic folk in the ’90s and was later influenced by club culture. The two musicians are joining forces for a unique, intimate performance on Saturday August 26 in the Primrose Potter Salon.
“There’s an intensity that comes from being in that space,” says McGuire. “It feels like being in someone’s living room – artists have different conversations with people in that space than they do elsewhere.”
Caitlin Hulcup & Friends
Australian powerhouse vocalist Caitlin Hulcup is a global success story not many Aussies have heard of. “She’s sung with all the world’s great opera companies – I mean all of them,” says McGuire. “There’s so much great achievement going on out there that we just don’t get to hear about. This is our chance to bring her to a Melbourne audience, which is definitely a highlight of the season.”
On Tuesday October 3, she’s being joined by pianist Kristian Chong and violist Fiona Sargeant (Melbourne Symphony Orchestra) to perform works by Schubert, Poulenc, Brahms and Massenet. If you’re unsure about opera, this trio might just change your mind.
JG Thirlwell: Silver Mantis
Melbourne-born, New York-based artist JG Thirlwell’s Silver Mantis is a fully immersive, “overwhelming” experience, says McGuire. “To be surrounded by his sound and his visual world is really something.”
Thirlwell – who’s collaborated with Karen O, Nick Cave, and Nine Inch Nails – combines theremin (an electronic instrument controlled by the movement of the performer’s hand towards and away from the circuit), software and sampling, and prepared piano with strong visual elements by Swedish artist Sten Backman. Expect a sonic and cinematic journey on Thursday September 28 that plays on the passing of time, and anxiety.
Iyer Brothers: Our Journey
To celebrate 50 years of playing the veena (one of the most ancient string instruments of India), twins Ramnath and Gopinath Iyer have assembled a knockout ensemble of veena players – including their young Aussie students – to share their musical journey through strings and drums on Tuesday September 26.
The Iyer Brothers have built a community around their Carnatic style of music, which the director describes as “rollicking, amazing, energising and uplifting”. He adds, “The tuning in itself is quite phenomenal”.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Melbourne Recital Centre.