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Manchester International Festival: big, balanced and beautiful

Jonathan Schofield rubs his hands with glee over what’s set to be a feast of culture and spectacle this July.

Written by . Published on March 20th 2009.

Manchester International Festival: big, balanced and beautiful

You best start booking.

The second Manchester International Festival is building on the success of the first to create a splendid jamboree for all audiences in July this year.

Although the festival might appear to have a musical bias, probably because of the names involved, in truth it’s a beautifully balanced series of showpiece events, which should reinforce the notion that the city has found a festival formula with international appeal.

Manchester International Festival might, under Alex Poots’ direction, be engraving for itself a permanent place on the art journalist and art lover’s calendar. You could gauge this at the launch in Manchester Art Gallery yesterday, where there was a real sense of excited anticipation. Poot’s idea of a festival, delivering 21 premieres in three weeks, is proving to be cracker again.

Get you chops around this lot.

Music first.

There’s Kraftwerk with Steve Reich on the opening night at the Velodrome (Confidential are joining the Team GB cycling team to try and sneak in). Meanwhile, Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson are teaming up for the first of only three gigs in Europe at the Palace Theatre. De la Soul are premiering their new tour here as well in the perfectly suited decay and glamour of the Ritz.

Genres come together with Antony and the Johnsons performing at the Opera House with the Manchester Camerata in a show which promises spectacular laser and light effects - in other words ‘things which only come alive when turned on’ according to Poots. Isn’t that all of us?

More importantly Elbow, continuing their miracle years, will be performing at the Bridgewater Hall with the full Halle Orchestra. They’ll be doing their own songs, some surprise numbers and featuring a couple of, as yet undisclosed, Manchester heroes.

Music and design collide in spectacular fashion with crazy cutting edge architect Zaha Hadid designing a purpose built auditorium for Bach quartets in Manchester Art Gallery.

One of the big commissions will be Rufus Wainwright at the Palace Theatre conducting his first opera Prima Donna. A sample of the music at the launch was all lush strings and sweeping melody.

One of the most spectacular and unnerving events will be the complete emptying of the Whitworth Art Gallery of all the art. All of it. This will then be replaced by a whole bunch of leading performance artists curated by Marina Abramovic. Groups will then spend four hours touring the rooms with no doubt all manner of oddity going on.

Bingo will come to the Royal Exchange with Everybody Loves a Winner directed by Neil Bartlett, in which the audience in the second half will take part in a game and there will be a cash prize winner. This will be no doubt be an emotional roller-coaster and stars the woman who has a contract to appear on the Manchester Evening News Diary pages once every two days, Sally Lindsay. It’ll be a laugh too.

A sixties office block will turn into a haunted house in a look at America during its ‘imperial’ heyday from ’59-’69. This event called It Felt Like a Kiss, should be both spooky and stimulating –mentally that is.

No doubt some of the audience will be physically stimulated by Carlos Acosta and his extraordinarily well-fitted meggings – you'd be pushed to run a ferret down those. He’s going to give Balanchine’s Apollo a seeing to at the Lowry.

On the ‘community’ front the standout moment seems to be The Procession organised by Jeremy Deller which will line ‘the Deansgate Mile’ with 25 different elements and all manner of local groups including school kids. The Procession will represent all the ten boroughs of Greater Manchester.

Meanwhile the Town Hall, Albert Square and the Library Theatre will be overrun with fun and games in The Great Indoors. This event follows on from the one two years ago and is aimed at children: 10,000 participants are expected to join in.

Albert Square, rather than a windy corner of Manchester Central, will feature the Festival Pavilion. Here’s there’ll be a showcase food event for the first 2000 people to book and a chance to enjoy the skills of Fuchsia Dunlop, Paul Heathcote, Camellia Panjabi, Claudia Roden and Levi Roots. This will be free.

The Pavilion will also host True Faith, a celebration of Manc talent featuring the likes of John Thomson, Lemn Sissay, Guy Garvey curated by Dave Haslam. I used to think the time would never come. There’s also clubbing and performance nights in the tent by Same Teens for 15-19 year olds.

The most emotional night might also be in the Pavilion when The Durutti Column perform their Paean To Wilson. Durutti Column were in at the beginning of the musical journey with Factory Music and this concert from 15-17 July will commemorate the force of nature that was Anthony H.

That’s the highlights folks. It promises to be a memorable three weeks.

Last time around in 2007 Damon Albarn’s Monkey seemed to dominate the programme. This isn’t going to happen this time. There will be excellent stuff and no doubt a few turkeys but on the whole this is a festival that will keep the art and culture vultures of the UK grinning. It should also attract an international audience: events such as the Procession will pull in the districts of Manchester too.

Expect Kraftwerk, Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, Elbow and the Halle, Hadid and Bach to sell out in seconds so get booking on www.mif.co.uk or 0844 815 4960.

And finally Alex Poots has booked three weeks of sunny weather to make up for the full programme of wet weather we had last time around. If he can do that as well we'll let him walk around our office in Carlos Acosta's meggings and ply him with gin.

We’ve got an interview with Alex Poots going up on Confidential on Tuesday next week.

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12 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Leeds bazMarch 20th 2009.

There do seem to be fewer events this year, but they seem of a higheraverage quality. There are enough real sit-up and take notice things going on that it creates a sense of occasion. This is the correct way of doing things. Let's forget stuff like the pointless nobody even knows it takes place food and drink festival or futuresonic and just put all the resource into this biennial festival. Well done Manchester.”

ShineALightMarch 20th 2009.

Was I the only person who had problems booking tickets yesterday?I tried for three hours before giving up - it seemed that Quays Tickets couldn't cope with the volumn of traffic.

JamesMarch 20th 2009.

Drake don't agree with you one iota. This is a great festival which goes for the names but also has enough new stuff. Problem with all new stuff would be that it would have limited appeal, it would not drag in the audiences that an International Festival needs. That surely is the function of the Not festival fringe in Manchester. That is how Edinburgh developed in its essense. This festival is about premieres - even if that means the first of a new gig-run - which will give us some awareness beyond Knutsford. Loads of unknowns woul not do that. You have to think funding here, you have to think what the festival is trying to achieve, it's not about keeping Drake happy with unsigned bands and experimental circus. You seem like a sensible chap I bet you go to loads in any case.

wayneMarch 20th 2009.

Great programme, interesting act, good art, that Whitworth thing looks amazing. Support it and go. Drake give us your vision?

AnonymousMarch 20th 2009.

Awful booking. Quaytickets are simply too small to handle this kind of operation.

SwaggerMarch 20th 2009.

I think this line-up is amazing. I read Bernadette McNulty writing about it first in the Telegraph....this is what she said: 'Manchester is a city well-known for its confidence and it was with a fair amount of swagger that the second Manchester International Festival unveiled its programme today.Arts festival press conferences are not usually the stuff of excitement, let alone a biannual event that bills itself as a the world’s only festival entirely based on newly commissioned work. Try selling that to punters in an already saturated festival market. '

PeteMarch 20th 2009.

I just booked If felt like a kiss, Kraftwerk, carlos acosta. It was easy to book, no fees and I choose my own seats for carlos! Much better than last time, just waiting for the free food events now. Oh and I bought them all at the same time with ticketmaster I bought 2 concerts last week and had to go through the whole thing twice, what a load of crap that is.

DrakeMarch 20th 2009.

mucis orientated? Even more bile filled than I thought...sorry. Learn to type Drake

LeeseMarch 20th 2009.

So great is MIF, that it now has its own festival fringe! Organisers are looking for artists and performers to take part - see http://www.notpartof.org for more info.

CubbyMarch 20th 2009.

For a festival supported by a fair wallop of Manchester tax payers' money it's depressing that so many events have such high ticket prices, thus preventing a large section of the city taking part.That qualm aside we should all get behind the festival. It's great for the city, it's great for the arts and, hopefully, it can only grow and develop.

AnonymousMarch 20th 2009.

What a farce, you cannot book at all through the MIF site through Quay tickets the only ones you can are events that are bookable through Ticketmaster! Big festival, crap to use such a small ticketing operation that cannot cope.

DrakeMarch 20th 2009.

James, all fair points and well taken. Thinking about it (and I'm not hanging about on here at all hours of the day honest!), I'm just really disappointed with it. Last time we had some genuinely radical stuff. This time only the Whitworth thing looks like that (and given how good Subversive Spaces is there, that might be down to the WAG's own curators and not the MIF's)). Reich, Hadid, Acosta, this is rent-a-festival, could be anywhere...I so admired Poots's original vision and this doesn;'t seem to be it. BUt, yes, I'll be at a few of the things (most of which, contra the intro to this article, won't sell out until the Festival starts). And probably enjoy them!

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