Music sounds better at The Neilson

From a week-long deconstruction of Bach to a lineup of the most exciting voices in contemporary music

09 Jan, 2024    Sydney Festival

Event collection Guide Deep dive

With so much happening across the city at this year’s Festival, there’s one venue you won’t want to miss. We’re talking about the ACO Neilson, a truly unique and intimate space at Pier 2/3 in the Walsh Bay Arts Precinct – aka, our full-swing waterside takeover, The Thirsty Mile.

Home to the Australian Chamber Orchestra, The Neilson is an expertly designed space that features world-class acoustics and beautiful details, including braille-based patterns in the wood of the auditorium walls that spell out famous quotes on the power of music. (The views out to Sydney Harbour also don’t hurt.)

With the whole space primed to make music sound as incredible as possible, we’ve assembled a lineup worthy of its up-close grandeur. Across three weeks of eclectic shows, you’ll find everything from time-honoured orchestral masterpieces to global jazz to boundary-pushing contemporary music.

Read on for a selection of events that will showcase The Neilson at its intimate, tingly best.

Contemporary music, epic acoustics

Among the more traditional classical music performances on the schedule, The Neilson will host a week of shows from contemporary artists who are equally at home in these hallowed surrounds.

With lyrics steeped in poetic shapes and forms, Irish singer-songwriter David Keenan will take the Neilson stage over two nights to share songs from his deeply emotive catalogue. For more soul-baring, American indie-folk storyteller Julie Byrne will showcase her extraordinary album, The Greater Wings, which Pitchfork named one of the 2023’s best. The clarity and depth of both artists’ songwriting will shine in the intimacy of the Neilson.

For something a little rowdier, Brooklyn-based firebrand SUO (formerly of surf-rock troupe BOYTOY) lands on January 20, channelling her strutting, androgynous energy into an all-killer show.

The Neilson will also host some of Australia’s most thrilling contemporary talent. Castlemaine-based singer-songwriter, author and accessibility advocate Eliza Hull has captivated audiences with her ethereal voice and poetic lyricism, and her Festival show is accompanied by dancer and performance artist roya the destroya.

Meanwhile, First Nations trailblazer Kee’ahn and experimental pop producer-slash-singer Trophie will command their own nights at the venue with undeniable power. With already sold-out shows from the likes of Peter Cat Recording Co. also on the schedule, you can’t go wrong this week.

Global jazz up-close

In addition to an array of contemporary artists across genres from folk to indie to R&B, The Neilson will host an esteemed line-up of jazz performers from around the world. These artists have been handpicked from the globally-renowned trade fair and festival, jazz-ahead!, which brings jazz enthusiasts to the German city of Bremen each year.

From the slums of Recife in north-eastern Brazil to an international jazz icon, Amaro Freitas has three nights at The Neilson to showcase his complex, hypnotically rhythmic performance style. Meanwhile, Cuban pianist Harold López-Nussa hits the stage with his tight-knit quartet that has performed at the most esteemed jazz festivals in the world.

In an Australian exclusive, Icelandic-Norwegian jazz sensation LILJA will perform with her exceptional international band, following her celebrated 2023 album, Mirage. Also representing Europe, Berlin group Conic Rose will bring the mesmerising jazz soundscapes (with shades of ambient, indie-pop and electronica) that they perfected on their 2023 debut album, Heller Tag.

Finally, Sydney's own genre-crossing instrumental powerhouse the Josh Meader Trio will perform a homecoming show that’s sure to dazzle in the crystal-clear acoustics of the Neilson.

One-of-a-kind Festival experiences

While expertly designed for traditional performances, The Neilson will try out some bold new moves throughout the Festival.

At Ensemble Apex’s Come Sweet Death, the audience is invited to lie down on yoga mats, with the lights flickering low, and let the immersive experience take over. Featuring some of the standout emerging players in Australia, the performance is inspired by one of Bach's most sorrowful and devotional songs, so come prepared to feel deep things.

Come Sweet Death is part of Temperament, a week-long celebration and deconstruction of JS Bach that also features performances by the ACO, virtuosic Turkish pianist Korkmaz Can Saǧlam and Temperament co-curator Benjamin Skepper, to name just a few.

Alongside the work of Ensemble Apex, other outside-the-box Temperament offerings include a performance of Bach by the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, accompanied by live painting and dance from French artist Silvère Jarrosson, and Bach In Colour, a joyous Bach-inspired vocal performance by Andrew Bukenya.

Outside the Temperament program, other tweaks to tradition include Eliza Hull’s on-stage collaboration with street performing artist roya the destroya, and classically-trained producer Trophie experimenting outside her usual club format with a special performance featuring string players.

Inspiring artists, intimate experiences and out-of-this-world acoustics: it’s all happening at the Neilson this January. 


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