S YDNEY: S WITCHED ON
Bright lights, big city, and even brighter music and ideas — Sydney’s winter festival, Vivid, launched last night.
The city (along with other Australian capitals) has an unquenchable thirst for big events. After a summer of the Sydney Festival and Mardi Gras, and hot on the tales, so to speak, of the Writers Festival, Vivid sets the place aglow until June 17. Now in its ninth year, the festival, organised by Destination NSW, last year attracted 2.31 million people, up from 500,000 four years earlier. The big drawcards have been the light projections and installations around the CBD, most spectacularly on the sails of the Opera House (this year, expect “pulsing sea creatures, eye-searing bird plumage and iridescent plant life” with accompanying soundtrack), other city buildings and in the Botanic Garden. The edgy music program includes jazz great Dianne Reeves and, tomorrow evening, film director Oliver Stone ( Midnight Express, Wall Street, JFK) kicks off the ideas agenda. Whatever happened to hibernating once the weather turned cool?
Restaurants and bars around Circular Quay and harbour cruise companies have been offering vantage-point specials and it’s worth considering the best time to visit
the festival, but to say avoid early evenings and weekends is not always possible.
In the lead-up to the festival, I am enjoying an overnight package in Hilton Sydney’s Vivid-inspired Suite. What bliss it is for an hour-distant commuter to be able to stay in the city after an evening out (I’ve become a matinee kind of guy).
Hilton has partnered with Philips Hue 2.0 to equip a Relaxation Suite with a personalised lighting system to unleash guests’ inner creativity so they can immerse themselves in their own festival after the city illuminations are turned off. On arrival the splendid room is like a theatre set. I am given an iPad to control the scenes — Savanna Sunset, Tropical Twilight, Arctic Aurora and Spring Blossom — and the “moods”, from relax to energise. There are special column lights and marvellous freeform bedside lamps.
I’m away, fuelled by not one but two 19th Amendment cocktails delivered to the suite from the hotel’s fabulous and historic Marble Bar. The 19th gave US women the right to vote in 1920, which was the same year Prohibition was imposed, so I’m not sure how this all comes together in a strawberry-infused vodka cocktail with lemon and fresh basil, but who’s complaining? It’s as colourful and cheery as I have made the suite’s lighting, just in time for high tea, delivered from Caffe Cino downstairs.
The five-tier stand is a thing of beauty. I’ll work my way up from savoury at the bottom, potato blinis with spicy tuna and pickled cucumber, through fluffy scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream, to lemon meringue, blackcurrant mousse dome on sticky date, layered blueberry passionfruit and pistachio cake, and a whole lot more. It’s going to be a late dinner (an excellent prawn linguine from room service).
As I sample the TV entertainment (one set in the living and work area, one in the bedroom and one above the very spacious spa bath; what, no TV in the powder room!) I chance upon a so-called current affairs panel discussion. The participants are talking baloney and I am becoming livid. I reach for my Vivid light controls. If I turn the setting to relax or dim, will my mood change? It works, but then I realise I have been paying attention to the adjustment and have lost track of what they’ve been saying. Now, where’s the program-change button? Full marks, by the way, to the reading setting, often a difficult thing to achieve in a hotel room.
By lights-out, I have had a fun time and I sink into the restful comfort of my bed and Vivid dreams. There’s just one more joy — the hotel’s breakfast buffet served in glass brasserie. It’s an enticing spread and my table looks across George Street to the central dome of the Queen Victoria Building. The city is coming to life and talk at adjacent tables is all CBD deals. Today, it’s a 15-minute walk to work in the beautiful light of day.
Sydney Opera House lit up for this year’s Vivid, top; atmospheric Vivid Suite in Hilton Sydney, above