Each year, the Sydney Festival delivers an intriguing line-up of arts events in unusual spaces. The effect is twofold: it provides an opportunity for artist experimentation, and it takes often-niche modes of expression and puts them in more accessible spaces. And sometimes, that space is a 50-metre swimming pool.
The Seidler Salon Series was launched at the 2018 Sydney Festival as a way to explore the relationship between sound, space and design. Inspired by the buildings of the late Harry Seidler – one of Australia’s most influential modern architects – the series featured five classical music performances in several Seidler-designed spaces.
This year, the concept remains the same; the only thing that has changed is the line-up. There’s American harpist Mary Lattimore, pianist Elena Kats-Chernin, cellist Lori Goldston, and guitarist Chuck Johnson with percussionist Laurence Pike. Four Seidler venues will host the performances – among them the family home of Seidler and his architect partner Penelope in Killara, Sydney’s upper North Shore. The most intriguing of the venues, though, is the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre, where Lattimore will perform.
“The idea is that the audience float on their backs and look up at the stunning wave-shaped roof designed by Harry Seidler while taking in Lattimore’s dreamy arpeggios and otherworldly loops,” says Sydney Festival project manager Nathan Da Cunha.
Lattimore will perform live beside the pool with her harp running through a loop pedal. Above water the audience will hear only the acoustic harp, but when submerged will experience the complete soundscape.
The underwater PA system will amplify the instrument in a similar way to which music is played for synchronised swimmers. But what it will sound like is another question entirely.
“I expect it will be pretty muffled and maybe I’ll just make underwater clouds of sounds or underwater piles of soft diamonds. Hopefully the audience will respond in a positive way and won’t try to throw my harp into the pool,” says Lattimore.
You heard her. The harp stays dry.
The Seidler Salon Series is part of the Sydney Festival, running January 9 to January 27. Tickets for some events, including the Mary Lattimore performances (January 11–13), are on a standby list. There are still tickets available for Chuck Johnson and Laurence Pike.