Many of you will have never heard of the Manchester International Festival, especially if you're not from the north. The festival is relatively new, running only since 2007 for a couple of weeks biennially, usually in June or July. The festival is by no means a music festival (there's too many of them around!) but a kind of arts/cultural festival with various theatre productions, operas, art installations, and one off musical performances. Part of the appeal is that most of these productions are brand new and debut at the festival with a lot of them not continuing anywhere else after the festival has ended.
Before the festival became what it is today Manchester commissioned 3 different projects to showcase that Manchester is significant culturally as a city (seeing as it is often overlooked as the 2nd city of the country to the very exciting and important city of Birmingham). Sarcasm doesn't come across well in the written word.
These commissions included performances by virtual band Gorillaz (i.e. Damon Albarn), Ennio Morricone (composer of very famous film scores such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) and an art installation by Steve Mcqueen (artist, not the actor) in response the invasion of Iraq.
The 2007 festival was relatively low key, featuring only a handful of commissions. Gorillaz creators Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett returned, as well as a new production of the Pianist.
The 2009 festival, however, is where it really came into it's own. That year saw the debut performance of Rufus Wainwright's opera Prima Donna, a co-production by Damon Albarn and Adam Curtis named It Felt Like A Kiss, performances by Lou Reed, and a unique installation by Zaha Hadid architects, which personally took my fancy. In total there were 20 commissions over the festival period.
This festival I personally visited a couple of times. One thing I haven't mentioned is that during all of these productions Manchester, or certain areas of it, is teeming with life. There are various bands on in bars, pubs, clubs as well as parades and exhibitions. If you're in Manchester but aren't visiting anything in particular there's still a certain mardi gras spirit about the place. This festival saw the return (yet again) of Damon Albarn (right) with his new opera Dr. Dee, performances by Bjorn, Snoop Dogg (yes really), Victoria Wood, Sinead O'Connor and even Willem Dafoe (yes even Hollywood comes to Manchester!) among others.
P.S. I would have written a full review of Dr. Dee but it'd be a post in itself!