Hundreds of miles from civilization in the heart of the Australian Outback, the Darwin Symphony Orchestra is preparing to do something that’s never been done before: stage a world-class concert under the red glow of Uluru (Ayers Rock).
“No orchestra has ever performed at Uluru before,” boasted DSO General Manager Guy Ross. “This concert is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform at Australia’s most iconic landmark.”
On Friday, Oct. 18, Opera Australia principal artist Emma Matthews and acclaimed tenor James Egglestone will front the first of two shows, Viva Verdi, which marks the bicentenary of Giuseppe Verdi in an unconventional way.
The concert series will change in tone the following Saturday for Sounds of Australia, a show that boasts music created in collaboration with indigenous artists, making it likely more familiar to the continent’s sacred heartland. The lineup features acclaimed didgeridoo player William Barton, jazz virtuoso James Morrison and accompaniment by the DSO.
Ross said the Uluru show was the largest production Darwin’s orchestra had ever undertaken in terms of both its scope and quality -- and he had high hopes that it would not just be a one-off event. “The intention is to look at the viability of this, and to see if we can make it ongoing.”
There are a total of 1,200 tickets for each of the two shows, despite how the extremely remote resort town of Yulara, the only settlement near Uluru, boasts a population of roughly half that number.
The concept of staging an “Outback Symphony” came from Northern Territory Tourism Minister Matt Conlan, who believes the concerts can help reignite interest in Australia’s Red Center. International arrivals across the tourism-dependent Northern Territory were down 10 percent last year, according to Tourism NT, while ticket sales at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park declined by about 6 percent, to just 257,761, far below figures from a decade ago, when nearly 400,000 visitors made the long trek to the Australian interior.
John Di Maria, executive director of operations at Tourism NT, said the event had already been successful in generating both domestic and international interest. “Uluru has significant appeal and awareness around the world, and this event will put the spotlight on Central Australia and encourage travelers to come and experience our natural wonders for themselves.”
For many visitors, Uluru is a place to reconnect with Australia’s historical roots and experience authentic aboriginal culture. Consequently, Tourism NT engaged the local indigenous population in the project, and it said Uluru’s traditional owners were “excited” at the thought of welcoming a symphony orchestra.
“The indigenous people love music and utilize music as part of the storytelling process," Di Maria said. "For some, however, it will be the first time they have ever experienced a live orchestral performance. The DSO has invited the traditional owners to a special performance to showcase the vast variety of instruments so the community can interact with the orchestra.”
Tourism NT rolled out an advertising campaign last month which, coupled with increased attention from the international media, has put tickets for the concerts in high demand. Ross of the DSO said the multi-hotel complex of Ayers Rock Resort, the only real accommodation in the area, was already nearly full to capacity, though a campground can accommodate any overflow should rooms book up.
Ticket prices for Viva Verdi and Sounds of Australia start at A$95 and run up to A$589 per person for a 3-day, 2-night package, including concert tickets, meals and accommodation at the Ayers Rock Resort. For more information, check out the promotional video below.