For Street Serenades, in its second incarnation at the Brisbane Festival, there will once again be 190 free concerts to cover every Brisbane locale, covering dance, classical, world, jazz, cabaret, pop and rock.
Mackay-born Artistic Director Louise Bezzina calls the program one of her “dear babies” of the festival. “There’s so many layers to a festival, but there’s an extra layer when you’re representing a whole city,” she tells Limelight.
“How you truly embed yourself and bring the community with you is challenging, but absolutely critical to my philosophy in artistic direction and curation.”
It’s the Queensland Ballet’s debut at Street Serenades, with seniors’ ballet classes at Wynnum Community Place, with the backdrop of Moreton Bay, on 11 September, and performances at New Farm on 18 and 25 September.
Brisbane chamber group Camerata’s artistic associates and guests including singer-songwriter Emma Dean will play McDowall and South Brisbane on 11 September.
This year, many of the dates, times and places for the 190 concerts were announced in August, a vast change from the 2020 festival, when concerts were rolled out guerilla-style without advance notification, because of pandemic social distancing requirements.
“Street Serenades started when the whole world went crazy,” Bezzina recalls. “The program I had finished for 2020 couldn’t happen, so I had to remake a festival. Immediately I thought, ‘We’ll take the festival to the people, instead of the people coming to us’. Music would be easier to manage [than other artforms]. I discovered Brisbane is the biggest city in Australia [by geographic area], with 190 suburbs. But that’s also the charm of the project: it does go to every suburb of the city.”
Bezzina laughs when asked about the logistics of putting the first program together during a pandemic.
“Oh my god, my team wanted to kill me,” she says. “They kept going: ‘Nobody’s heard of that suburb, Lou, can we not do it?’ I was like, ‘No. We have to do it. We say we’re doing 190. No one misses out’.”
While some concerts had a dishearteningly small number of onlookers to begin with due to the lack of advance notice, word of mouth meant each concert gained a fair-sized impromptu audience.
Highlights this year include concerts by The 7 Sopranos (12 September at Brighton and Boondall), Greshka (19 September at Spring Hill, Kelvin Grove and South Brisbane), Rako Pasefika (23 September at Kuraby), Kate Miller-Heidke (18 September at Brisbane City, St Lucia and Camp Hill) and students of the Queensland Conservatorium.
The 7 Sopranos, who formed at the University of Queensland in 2009, are a “big, operatic, sensational group” of women, says Bezzina. “They’re stunning. Tarita Botsman created the group. They have such a diverse repertoire in their voices together.”
Bezzina points out Greshka in the Street Serenades program, a five-piece neo-gypsy/klezmer ensemble, as well as Rako Pasefika, combining artists from around the Pacific: Fiji, Rotuma, Tonga, Tuvalu and Rabi. Both add to the world music offerings in Street Serenades.
“I worked with Rako Pasefika when I was working on the Commonwealth Games,” she says. “They’re an extraordinary group of artists, dance and music. They really take you into the heart of the Pacific.”
Elsewhere, Casus Circus Vs Mad Dance will combine circus performers with a local hip hop group (16 September at Wavell Heights and Northgate; 18 September at Pallara; and 25 September at Wacol, Corinda and Archerfield).
Some performers will be seen at multiple gigs. This year, a host will be added at each concert. Bezzina intends to continue Street Serenades throughout her tenure as Artistic Director.
Brisbane Festival runs until 25 September. Street Serenades schedule is available here.