‘I’ve never seen a festival like this’: Why ANAM’s first major post-lockdown event has classical music fans so excited

‘I’ve never seen a festival like this’: Why ANAM’s first major post-lockdown event has classical music fans so excited

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Words by Bridget McArthur
Photography by Pia Johnson

After waiting almost two years to get from Helsinki to Melbourne and officially take up his new role as ANAM’s artistic director, Paavali Jumppanen tells us why he’s excited about Australia’s music scene and what makes the upcoming ANAM Set Festival so unique.

In times of crisis, security quickly becomes priority number one. Critical industries range from health and emergency services, to police and military. The arts sector rarely gets a look in.

Finnish concert pianist and newly appointed artistic director for the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM), Paavali Jumppanen, is one man who believes it deserves a spot at the table. He’s been willing to fight for it, helping to secure pandemic recovery funding through the Australian Government’s RISE [Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand] program to organise a festival aimed at reconnecting musicians and composers with a culture-hungry Australian audience in intimate and discursive ways.

Stay up to date with what’s happening in and around Melbourne here.

The product – the ANAM Set Festival, taking place May 13-15 at the Abbotsford Convent – will debut over eight hours of work from one of the biggest commissioning projects ever undertaken in Australia – the ANAM Set – which saw 67 Australian composers collaborate remotely with 67 ANAM musicians throughout 2021.

The epic setlist has been divided into nine shorter programs based on theme and style – meaning two audience members can enter together and leave with two completely different experiences. Sounds Of An Agenda, for example, explores inequality, political corruption, land rights, cultural intersections, and even the fraught notion of composition itself, promising a body of work in which “satire abounds”. Exactly how a viola, double bass or bassoon conveys satire when my human self still often struggles to hit the mark, I’m not sure, but I’m very willing to find out.

Another program, Out Of Doors, centres on our natural environment – both its crises and its beauties. Nostalgia pays homage to art’s lineage. The more avant-garde Weights And Measures draws from scientific disciplines, while a group called Intimate Exchange invite small groups of listeners in to enjoy aesthetically sensitive, quieter pieces.

As the grandest event held by ANAM at the Abbotsford Convent, the organisation’s new home since mid-2021, the team – led by Jumppanen and creative coordinator Leigh Harrold – are keen to celebrate every nook and cranny that the space has to offer, painstakingly matching each work to the different venues available. The once-operational North Magdalen Laundry, for example, will house some of the more avant-garde and political pieces, all enhanced – either in harmony or dissonance – by the acoustic, historical and visual elements unique to the site.


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“A little like a film festival, we were thinking about how best to present these compositions… grouping them in this way allows people to experience these different categories and different styles that are cohesive, without having to view the whole eight hours,” Jumppanen  says. “It’s really an amazing puzzle of different elements that have led to this program, but now that we see the program in front of our eyes it looks like it’s very natural and very organic.”

For those keen of ear and patient of mind, don’t fret. The festival is organised in such a way that, if you do want to catch all eight-plus hours, you can. Fastidiously coordinated repeat shows make it one of the most Type A music industry events I’ve encountered.

As to its uniqueness, Jumppanen agrees. “I’ve never seen a festival like this… I don’t think there’s a single avant-garde or new music festival that comes even close.”

That means a lot coming from the festival veteran, who has been involved in creating and organising festivals such as the Väyläfestival – a sprawling week-long event with installations and performances on both sides of the border-river between Finland and Sweden.

Says Jumppanen; “I’m an outsider in a way to Australian music… I’ve just been amazed by how many unique individual high quality classic composers there are. COVID has accelerated ANAM’s plan to really hone in on local talent and voice, as well as to reduce the amount we fly overseas in light of climate change. What we are presenting is really a national Australian monument of new music.”

Less than two weeks out, the festival has given itself a lot to prove. Jumppanen hopes it will serve as a case study for the importance of funding music in times of crisis and separation.

“There is a potency in music to not just celebrate but encourage unity and strength in society, even change. Now is the time to keep listening – to listen more than ever – and to expose ourselves to new and old sounds.”

If you, too, want to keep listening, tickets start at $90 – you can even claim 25% back through the Victorian Dining and Entertainment Program. Can’t make it? Tune in to Radio National, who will be broadcasting live from the Convent on Saturday (May 14).

For tickets and more information, head here.

In partnership with ANAM.