Q+A :: Lieven Bertels – Director of Sydney Festival

December 7th 2012

The curation and direction of an event like Sydney Festival is no easy feat; there’s the delicate balance between established and emerging talent whilst representing our vast array of regional cultures, not to mention ensuring that each individual event is innovative, exciting and fits perfectly within the bigger-picture program. Whatta job!

Sydney Festival recently announced their new head honcho for 2013 as Lieven Bertels. With his praises being sung by all (Clover Moore to Mike Patton inclusive), it seems a better guy couldn’t have been secured for the Festival Director gig. FBi’s Flog caught up with Lieven to talk about the line up, his transition to an Aussie audience as well as the subtle Bertels-style signature he is weaving into the event.


Having been Artistic Coordinator at Holland Festival for seven years, how have you found the transition to an Australian (and specifically Sydney) audience?

This city just knows how to enjoy a party so much more ! Sydney does live up to the ambition of best summer party place in the world, and is blessed with an adventurous and open-minded crowd that really embraces its festival but also loves to share it with visitors to our city.

You have previously said that you find it interesting to see younger musicians paying tribute to earlier eras and in music. Can you talk us through festival events that are following that tack?

Although their artists are not all teenagers anymore, it’s certainly great to see how the Daptone label has brought soul and funk back to the foreground with a next generation, so we’re really happy with our big free outdoor Daptone Super Soul Revue as part of Day One in the Domain on 5 January. The same is true for Sydney’s own contemporary classical mob Ensemble Offspring who team up with electronic duo Oren Ambarchi and Martin Ng to revisit György Ligeti’s music for Ligeti Morphed, in Carriageworks on 11, 12 and 13 January. And of course there’s the interpretation of Kraftwerk’s quintessential album Computer World by Nite Jewel & Peanut Butter Wolf as part of our night at the Spiegeltent, the very last performance of our festival on 27 January.

Looking at the festival’s musical line-up, there are both a lot of new artists who’ve been creating a lot of hype online – like Nicolas Jaar, Lindstrøm and Lianne La Havas as well as some well-established and truly iconic artists such as Archie Roach and David Byrne & St. Vincent. How do you find a balance between young and old, established and emerging?

Our gut feeling tells us that these new artists will be with us for a while: they all have the potential to grow to become tomorrow’s superstars, so go discover them at our Paradiso or Spiegeltent shows now and boast to your grandchildren later! The nice thing about our vintage names is that they are all totally relevant today; they are young at heart and bring us sounds and stories that matter to audiences from any generation.

Sydney Festival has a history of embracing the art of other cultures in our region – which is something you have continued with the inclusion of performances by The Northern Kunqu Opera Theatre, Osaka Monaurail. Do you think this is an important element for a Sydney audience?

I absolutely think this is essential. There is so much fascinating music and performing arts in Asia that we rarely get to see here! How about Navicula, the grunge band from Bali – world famous in Indonesia but they had never been here. Or Song Dong’s fascinating art installationWaste Not, which had travelled to New York and London and is now finally shown in Australia.

As a new director of such a long-running festival, there are clearly elements from previous directors that you will be continuing and extending upon. What’s the Bertels stamp you’re putting on this year?

I’m not too obsessed with that actually – I think any director of a great festival such as ours in a vibrant city like Sydney is primarily a custodian, not an artist in his or her own right. And it’s teamwork! Of course I’m proud to bring projects like Sandglasses, which is a mesmerising marriage of video art and minimal music: four cellist are quite literally surrounded by video columns that radiate images of passing time and the fluidity of eternity. Or take Semele Walk, a baroque opera with costumes by Vivienne Westwood and a splash of Jimi Hendrix flute playing – I think that sounds like me !


Check out the full lineup for Sydney Festival 2013 here.



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