Culture / Music

At the Sydney Opera House with classically trained harpist Mary Lattimore

In review: Mary Lattimore at the Sydney Opera House

One does not expect a classically trained musician known for melodic – and occasionally melancholic – compositions to have anecdotes about Sesame Street, but perhaps we now ought to. Mary Lattimore opened her set at the Utzon Room, in the Sydney Opera House, with And Then He Wrapped His Wings Around Me, claiming that it was inspired by her visiting the set of Sesame Street and being embraced by Big Bird. Whilst I cannot synesthetically see the yellow of this experience, the beauty of a childlike experience could well be imbued within her harp strings.

Harpist Lattimore has an enviable CV of collaborations having worked with Sharon Van Etten, Jarvis Cocker, Thurston Moore, Kurt Vile, Nick Cave and Meg Baird. So, to see her in this intimate space, with a sunlit harbour and the ferries gliding behind her, feels very special. Even more so, when you remember that she has worked on films for Marina Abramović and Philippe Garrel, and that members of The Cure and Slowdive are on her most recent record.

Lattimore, dressed in her friend’s label, Romance Was Born, seems elated to be in the room and speaks joyously in between some seriously sophisticated dreamscapes. For those unfamiliar with her work, Lattimore “builds sonic worlds out of strings, effects pedals and synthesiser loops, using her Lyon and Healy Concert Grand harp, [she] experiments with sounds that flow in organic, unexpected ways, unfurling from quiet, reflective moments to expansive, enveloping vistas.”

Lattimore’s set really does blossom and unfurl to those witnessing, and the choice for her to play On the Day You Saw the Dead Whale seemed to be a poignant moment that cracked the set open to new levels of emotional engagement between audience and performer. Following it with For Scott Kelly, Returned To Earth allowed us to travel from the depths of the ocean to a realm of heavenly bodies. Lattimore reveals that once she finished the song about Scott Kelly, the astronaut, she sent the song to NASA for him, and “apparently he liked it".

As the set continued with personal favourites, Silver Ladders and Wawa by the Ocean, one could feel the audience becoming more moved and invested. Lattimore’s charming explanations behind the songs kept re-grounding her audience ahead of their next trip.

Collaborator and guitarist Paul Sukeena supported her in this performance, marrying their strings together and appending elements less celestial to add another dimension to the performance. There is something so fluid in tone to the performance, that playing Til A Mermaid Drags You Under almost feels non-negotiable, given the location of the Sydney Opera House. Lattimore says of her impressive roster of contributors, that they have “deeply effected and inspired my life”, I would highly recommend listening to her and letting her do the same for you.

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