THE Adelaide Festival enters a new era with a program unlike any in its renowned history when it becomes annual next March after more than 50 years as a biennial event.
The difference is a wide selection of ''adventurous'' contemporary music.
''There is an obvious emphasis on the music program,'' says the festival's new director, David Sefton. ''I am applying a similar rigour to contemporary music that we always bring to other art forms.''
The music includes three nights of Unsound Adelaide, which Sefton describes as ''most interesting new music'' with artists from Europe, Britain and the US, as well as the Australian-German group Severed Heads using tape loops and dissonant sound effects.
Other artists include Ireland's Glen Hansard with the Frames, veteran Californian songwriter Van Dyke Parks, Archie Roach, and ''one of the best live bands in the world'', Goran Bregovic and the Weddings and Funerals Orchestra. The opening event on March 1 is a free concert by Neil Finn and Paul Kelly.
Sefton came to Adelaide from California where he ran UCLA Live for nearly a decade. In London before that, he started the annual Meltdown festival at Royal Festival Hall in 1993, which was directed by such artists as Elvis Costello, Nick Cave and Laurie Anderson.
His appointment is part of a strategy to lower the average age of festival audiences without changing the emphasis on the best international arts performers available.
''It's a balancing act,'' he says. ''We still want to engage with traditional audiences who expect the program to take risks and be fairly radical.''
He says other festival directors are also trying to entice younger audiences. ''I don't think the musical program is very radical in comparison to what others are doing. New and interesting music makes sense in a festival context.''
The rest of the program includes a new show, Nosferatu, written and directed by Grzegorz Jarzyna from Poland's TR Warszawa, based on Bram Stoker's classic, and co-commissioned by the festival with music by Australia's John Zorn. ''This is the first international commission [by the festival] for a long time,'' Sefton says. ''I want to make new work happen.''
The festival's programming budget is $6.5 million, out of a total allocation of $14 million, with $8.05 million coming from the state government.
Another European production is Kamp by Hotel Modern from the Netherlands that uses eight-centimetre-tall puppets as inmates of Auschwitz that are filmed and shown on screens.
Internationally acclaimed dancer Sylvie Guillem returns to Australia starring in 6000 miles away with a program by three of the greatest contemporary choreographers - Jiri Kylian, William Forsythe and Mats Ek.
There are several contemporary dance productions, which Sefton says is unusual for Adelaide. Belgium's Ultima Vez company makes its Australian debut with the remounting of What the Body Does Not Remember by Wim Vandekeybus that Sefton says had a big impact on contemporary dance. It explores what happens when things happen automatically - falling in love or the instant before an accident.
Renowned Spanish film director Carlos Saura brings his latest project, Flamenco Hoy, to the program exploring past and future flamenco with young performers.
A company Sefton says is pushing boundaries in the same way as New York's famed Wooster Group is young Brooklyn company, BBB SongPlay, which is presenting Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage incorporating a seven-piece rock band.
Murder Ballads by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds is the inspiration for a new Australian work, Murder, by Erth, that will premiere at the festival, exploring contemporary society's obsession with death.
More than 130 people will be on stage, including the Adelaide Symphony and a 60-person choir, for performances of the music to Kubrick's classic film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, while it is shown on giant screens.
Regular Australian visitors Laurie Anderson and the Kronos Quartet will perform, while the visual arts program will feature the first Australian retrospective of Anderson's art.
It will complement the biggest Turner exhibition seen in Australia, Turner from the Tate at the Art Gallery of South Australia.
Adelaide Festival runs from March 1-17.