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NICO, BRYCE & SUFJAN

THREE TALENTS TOGETHER

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By Charlie David Page
29th May 2012

Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly and Sufjan Stevens. All talented musicians in their own right. So what happens when these three New York creative minds come together to collaborate on a show?

Two and a half hours of spectacular music and an overwhelmed Sydney Opera House audience is the answer. The performance combines Sufjan's electronic and indie influence, Bryce's rock guitar edge and Nico's orchestral skills, combined in a way that isn't always completely successful - but when it is, it truly is radiant.

As a three-way commission between Sydney Opera House for Vivid LIVE, Muziekgebouw in Eindhoven and the Barbican in London, this was a rare performance showcasing work that was only completed around a month ago and played a handful of times since. Watching, it's clear that this is a special event; an extraordinary alignment of the planets.

SUFJAN STEVENS, BRYCE DESSNER & NICO MUHLY - MERCURY (LIVE IN AMSTERDAM)

The first part of the evening features the superb Orava String Quartet, four Sydney performers who are the real stars of the show. Their skill at performing the music penned by Nico, Sufjan and Bryce is exemplary - it should be said, this is not your regular string recital; this is a composition from three very different, boundary-pushing artists, and that's well and truly reflected here.

After a short intermission comes Planetarium, songs based on the planets and "things" (including Pluto) in our solar system performed by the three artists, once again along with the Orava String Quartet, drummer James McAlister and seven - yes, seven - trombonists.

The collaboration is amazing to listen to - it's mesmerisingly ethereal. Although this is technically a collaboration between the three artists, there's a huge influence from Sufjan Stevens' 'Age of Adz' album and live performances - the electronic elements and booming horns are distinctly his. It's also largely follows Sufjan's writing style, and showcases the autotuned vocals and manufactured beats found throughout 'Adz'.

The planets are used as starting points for stories ranging from war to lustful love.

Though called Planetarium, the collaboration isn't a lecture in astronomy. Rather, the planets are used as starting points for stories ranging from war to lustful love. There's some undeniable standouts - 'Jupiter', a fragile 'Earth' (of which Sufjan comments "there's more biodiversity in your person than all the solar system"), and 'Mercury' shows off Sufjan's raw and beautiful vocals.

Besides the music, there's also another intriguing piece of art in this show - an "orb" that hovers above the musicians and presents the audience with an artistic representation of the planet in question. It's an ingenious and often (though not entirely) effective addition to the stories told.

There are two more chances (Tuesday 29th and Wednesday 30th May) to catch these stunning performances at the Sydney Opera House - and I'd certainly suggest if you have the opportunity, don't pass it up.

FAST FACTS
ARTIST: Sufjan Stevens
BEGAN: 1999
FROM: Detroit, Michigan
SOUND: Indie Folk/indie Pop/electronica
WEBSITE: Www.sufjan.com
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