Most Sydneysiders have probably never set foot inside the city’s Dohány Street Synagogue.
Built like a pocket-sized Gothic cathedral and wedged between drab office blocks and shops near Hyde Park, the 19th-century marvel evokes a spiritual, otherworldly magic with its interior of grand midnight-blue ceilings, glittering chandeliers and Byzantine mosaics.
It was the kind of beauty that conductor and pianist Vladimir Fanshil wanted to associate with music. Now his concert series Live big will bring music to the synagogue for the third year in a row in a series of five concerts featuring some of Australia’s finest artists.
The original concert in 2021 – the first time live music was played at the Dohány Street Synagogue – was itself another accident of COVID. When the pandemic brought the world to a halt in March 2020, Fanshil and his wife Eleanor Lyons, an opera singer, were forced to put their burgeoning career in Europe on hold and stay in Sydney.
While some musicians migrated to Zoom with varying degrees of success, within COVID restrictions, Fanshil and Lyons worked to host a series of small, intimate concerts in people’s homes.
As lockdowns waxed and waned and then finally disappeared, her quest to “connect music with other beautiful things” took her to larger spaces like art galleries and cathedrals across the city. Then Fanshil discovered the synagogue.
“It’s this secret treasury, a secret gem hidden in the center of the CBD,” he says. “It’s a living space, a space that really speaks to you through its architecture.”
Despite significant logistical challenges—it can be difficult to get a grand piano in the door—the synagogue’s high ceilings and wooden interior make for warm acoustics that Fanshil describes as “quite magical.”
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