Uluru hosts the Darwin Symphony Orchestra

You know how there are some combinations which when put together for the first time, you cannot imagine how or why they haven't been mixed before? The majesty of Australia's most iconic landmark, Uluru and the sweep of a symphony orchestra are one such combination. And at the weekend just gone, the pair were brought together for the first time, creating the most sublime serendipity.
Iconic musicians and iconic landmark make history in Red Centre

The majesty of Australia’s most iconic landmark, Uluru and the sweep of a symphony orchestra are one such combination. And at the weekend just gone, the pair were brought together for the first time, creating the most sublime serendipity.

Imagine the scene. Just as the sun cast its last rays for the day on Uluru, setting the famous rock ablaze, the lights came up on a roofless stage which had been plonked for the weekend in the red sand at her feet. Under a cloudless, star-filled sky, and (for the lucky few at least) as waiters served fresh-grilled barramundi fillet and topped glasses with perfectly-chilled sauvignon-blanc, the Darwin Symphony Orchestra set about making a little bit of history: becoming the first symphony orchestra to play in the shadow of the country’s most recognisable outback destination.

“I’ve never played a concert hall this big,” said jazz legend James Morrison as he took the stage on the second night of the programme and stared upwards. “I mean, look at the ceiling on this place.”

Earlier in the evening, we had been lucky enough to experience dining al fresco, desert-style, with a delicious three-course meal served under the stars — part of the nearby Yulara resort’s Sounds of Silence dining experience. As the sun dipped below the horizon and the 40-degree heat started to leech from the day, the wine flowed to the accompaniment of seventy classical musicians tuning their instruments.

Across two nights of inspired musical programming, the 1500 ticket holders who had flocked to the heart of the country for a night of dust-infused culture were treated to the sublime singing talents of charismatic Australian soprano Emma Matthews who, together with leading tenor, James Egglestone, vividly brought to life a Viva Verdi-themed concert.

Under the expert direction of DSO artistic-director and chief-conductor, Matthew Wood, we meandered through fifty-odd years worth of compositions by Italian maestro, Giuseppe Verdi. The orchestra played masterfully, Egglestone performed wittily, but the evening belonged to Matthews, who not only seemed to be having the time of her life, but made easy work of the highest notes — despite the best efforts of an army of omnipresent flying bugs to distract her.

During a second night of symphony-orchestra programming, conceived under the title “Sounds of Australia”, ARIA award-winning didgeridoo prodigy William Barton brought a resonant, indigenous flavour to proceedings — his masterful manipulation of this most ancient of instruments unfurling as a bright yellow moon snuck over the horizon.

Jazz legend James Morrison and didgeridoo prodigy William Barton take the stage.

And then came James. Not only is Mr Morrison a consummate showman and a ridiculously talented musician, but after all these years he retains an almost childlike wonder for all things musical, infecting audiences with his enthusiasm. From Louis Armstong to Duke Ellington, we were treated to a jazz masterclass. What that man cannot do with a sax, trumpet or trombone is quite probably not worth doing.

And all under the silent, watchful gaze of Uluru — standing sentinel in the darkness only a few kilometres away.

That a trip to the Red Centre features on the travel bucket list of most Australians is not the least bit surprising. The deep terracotta of the sand, a blue sky that seems to go forever and the vivid lime greens of ghost gums that hug the base of Uluru rightly make the landmark one of the country’s most iconic.

Yulara Resort, comprising five separate hotels, from two-star to five-star, plays host to the more than 300,000 visitors who flock here every year.

The resort’s high-end accommodation facility, Sails In The Desert, has just undergone renovations, leaving it with rooms which are as well-appointed as their surroundings are spectacular. Cultural programs run year-round for all visitors to Yulara’s five hotels, with free performances daily from local Aboriginal dance and theatre troupes. And the range of food on offer belies the resort’s distance from the nearest providores. Dinner at Arnguli

Grill in the four-star Desert Gardens hotel complex is rated by those in the know as the premier dining experience at Yulara, and rightly so. Whether you indulge in the macadamia-encrusted salmon or twice roasted duck, you’ll leave impressed.

Operated by the Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia, which is in turn owned by the Indigenous Land Corporation, the Yulara resort complex has an Indigenous Training Program which attracts young Australians from all over the country. In the last five years, the program has seen indigenous employee numbers at Yulara increase from single digits to the more than 180 who work there now. It’s a corporate initiative which unsurprisingly adds to the visitor experience.

But the resort exists for the rock, and all activities are geared towards it (and it’s lesser known, but no less spectacular monolithic sister, Kata Tjuta or, The Olgas, as they were once known).

Sunrise tours are popular — and with good reason. Watching Uluru change from a dull grey hulk on the near horizon to a flaming ship on a red desert sea is one of life’s great experiences. You can circle the rock on the back of a Harley, fly around it in a helicopter or take it in from the vantage point of a bike saddle.

But on foot, with a local, indigenous guide explaining the Dreamtime stories that have been passed down for millenia, has to be the best way to experience Uluru. Our guide’s name was Cassidy. His family name was Uluru, and it was just one of the reasons we all listened reverently to his commentary as we walked around the monolith’s base and were all suitably humbled in his presence.

But this weekend was about history-making of a more modern-kind. And as the 70 musicians comprising the Darwin Symphony Orchestra struck the final note in their two night programme, you felt you had been part of something pretty special.

It was too dark to say with any real certainty — and it may have been the combined effects of the wine, heat and general festive atmosphere — but I could have sworn I heard the rock rumble its approval.

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