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Contemporary Music

Music that moves you

The Opera House’s Contemporary Music program showcases the most interesting artists working in one of the major art forms of our time, from the legends of today to those of tomorrow. The famous Concert Hall, a venue often associated with artforms like opera and classical music, now attracts over 100,000 contemporary music-lovers each year to hear artists such as Nick Cave, Ludovico Einaudi, Brian Wilson, Sufjan Stevens, Bon Iver, Patti Smith and Mary J. Blige.

The Opera House Forecourt is home to large-scale outdoor gigs, including The National, Florence + The Machine, Tame Impala, Chet Faker, while the Opera House’s signature Contemporary Music festival, Vivid LIVE, goes from strength-to-strength in its ninth year. Digital programming – from live streams, VR and 360° experiences to the Nooks & Crannies series, connects artists with audiences around Australia and the world.

Kamasi Washington chats Heaven and Earth and everything in between

Jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington, and his father Rickey, on why the first take is always the best take.

Richie Hawton on the Northern Broadwalk Image: Prudence Upton

Vivid LIVE

Vivid LIVE celebrates the ambition and excellence of the best in contemporary music. It marries artists interested in stretching the concept of performance with a building that symbolises the liberating power of art.

Vivid LIVE is a unique time to take in the Opera House, with contemporary music across every venue, foyer and rehearsal space, while the incomparable Lighting of the Sails signals the moment to Sydney and the world. 

Tame Impala perform on the Forecourt in 2015

Forecourt gigs

The Opera House’s architect, Jørn Utzon, envisioned the Opera House Forecourt, framed by the Harbour Bridge and dramatic cityscape, as a gathering place and outdoor auditorium.

Since the 1970s, the Forecourt has been home to some of music’s most magical moments, from Thin Lizzie in 1978 and one of the biggest concerts of its day, the 2SM Concert of the Decade, in 1979, to Björk in 2008, The National in 2014, Florence + The Machine, Tame Impala and Chet Faker in 2015, and 2016’s sell-out 20th anniversary farewell concerts by Crowded House.

Grand gestures against a remarkable backdrop, those concerts have connected new audiences with a building that has become the symbol of modern Australia.

Ben Marshall, Head of Contemporary Music

Ben Marshall is the Sydney Opera House’s Head of Contemporary Music and Curator of its centrepiece festival Vivid LIVE. He has worked in Australia’s music scene for over 20 years. Former solicitor-by-day, electronic music promoter-by-night, Marshall setup Inertia’s touring division Civil Society (now Handsome Tours), bringing some of the most influential contemporary music artists to Sydney for the first time. Under his curatorship, the Sydney Opera House has hosted Nick Cave, Bon Iver, Lorde, New Order and Florence + The Machine under its iconic sails, a testament to Ben’s ambitious and forward-facing vision in nurturing contemporary music in Australia.  

Since assuming the role of Vivid LIVE Curator in 2015, Ben has programmed Australian premieres from the likes of Mazzy Star (2018) and Anohni (2016); specially-commissioned works such as Max Richter’s Sleep and Bon Iver’s special in-the-round performance Cercle, seminal artists like AIR and the hallmark Lighting the Sails. In marrying artists who stretch the concept of performance with a building that symbolises the liberating power of art, Ben’s goal has been to present “people who work in the new territories, the places in between, the places out at the edges” as the legendary musician and producer Brian Eno –  the festival’s inaugural curator – outlined. 

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