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The Sidney Myer Music Bowl is an outdoor performance venue in Melbourne. It is located in the lawns and gardens of Kings Domain, close to the Arts Centre and the Southbank entertainment precinct. It was officially opened by Prime Minister Robert Menzies on 12 February 1959, with an audience of 30,000 people, and is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register. 

 History

The businessman and philanthropist, Sidney Myer, inspired the construction of the building, after attending the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. A violinist who enjoyed music, Sidney Myer established free, open-air concerts with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 1929, which were always well attended by Melbournians. These free concerts continue to this day, now being held at the bowl itself. There are usually four or five concerts a year.

Upon his death in 1934, the Sidney Myer Charitable Trust was established, now known as the Myer Foundation, to continue the tradition of philanthropy begun by its founder. The design and construction of a music bowl for the people of Melbourne was decided upon and funded by the Myer Foundation.

The bowl was officially opened by Prime Minister Robert Menzies on 12 February 1959 with an audience of 30,000. Later that month over 70,000 people attended to hear the American evangelist, Billy Graham. In 1966 and 1967, The Seekers performed with an audience of 150,000 and 200,000 respectively. Since then, international performers have included: ABBA, AC/DC, Metallica, Wings, Blondie, The Beach Boys, Crowded House, Dire Straits, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Merle Haggard, Pearl Jam, Paul McCartney and Wings, R.E.M., Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Daft Punk, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and most recently Bon Jovi, Paramore, Neil Young, Lenny Kravitz and The Black Keys.

During the mid 1970s performances by Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs drew crowds extending into the trees of Kings Domain of over 200,000 and 250,000 people. While most were unable to see the stage, the unique design of "The Bowl" allowed the sound to be heard several kilometres back.

In 1980, administration of the bowl was handed over to the Victorian Arts Centre from the Myer Foundation by Kenneth Myer, Sidney Myer's son. In 1984 a temporary ice-skating rink was created on the Bowl’s stage for use during winter months. The venue was closed for a major renovation in 2000 to bring the facilities up to an appropriate standard, and was reopened by the Premier of Victoria, Steve Bracks, at Carols by Candlelight on Christmas Eve, 2002. Recent works on the lawns extending from the seating and stage, and the construction of a fence and gates has reduced the total capacity to a little over 30,000, however, has also improved the visibility and standard of facilities out of sight.

The Sidney Myer Music Bowl is registered on the World and National heritage places Victorian Heritage list for its cultural importance to Victoria; its architectural importance as the largest, purpose built, permanent outdoor performance venue in Australia; and its engineering experimentation in new forms of construction involving use of membranes and a tensile structural system.

 Design and construction

Sidney Myer Music Bowl Map

A map of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl

The Bowl's canopy consists of a thin membrane made out of half an inch weather-proofed plywood sheeted on both sides with aluminium attached to a cobwebbed frame of steel cables and supported by 21.3 metre masts pivoted to the earth. The total area of the canopy is 4055 square metres. The main cable at the edge of the canopy comprises 7 ropes, each about 9 cm in diameter and 173 metres long, anchored deep into the ground in concrete blocks. Longitudinal cables hold up the roof and transverse cables hold it down.

Project design was by Yuncken Freeman and Griffiths and Simpson during 1956. The project architect was Barry Patten. Construction commenced in 1958 with an innovative system of cables laced together and covered with aluminium faced plywood sandwich panels. To ensure the structure would be watertight yet aerodynamically stable and flexible, new construction techniques were developed. Ground anchors were required to be corrosion resistant. The shell also needed to be acoustically correct. Construction entailed input from a number of engineering and scientific organisations including the Aeronautical Research Laboratories and CSIRO Forest Products Division.

Unlike the Hollywood Bowl concrete shell structure in Los Angeles which inspired it, the Sidney Myer Music Bowl combined a tensile structural system with a free-form roof. The structural design predates by nearly ten years noted German architect/engineer, Frei Otto, and his experiments in using lightweight tensile and membrane structures. Frei Otto's design of Munich's acclaimed Olympic Park for the 1972 Olympics, and the temporary West German pavilion at the 1967 World's Fair in Montreal, Canada, were heavily influenced by Patten's design of Melbourne's Myer Music Bowl.

 Capacity

There is a fixed seating area which can hold 2150 people. Behind this area are sloping lawns which can accommodate up to 23,000 people giving a total capacity of about 25,000. The stage area is 27.4 metres wide by 19.5 metres deep.

 Major events

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Sidney Myer Music Bowl in the heart of the City

The Bowl holds major events including Carols by Candlelight, held every year on Christmas Eve. Over the years, millions of dollars have been raised during this event for the benefit of Australian vision impaired charities and organisations. The concert is televised each year by the Nine Network.

Many contemporary music groups have held notable performances at the venue over the years.

 50th anniversary celebrations

2009 marked the 50th anniversary of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. To celebrate this milestone the Arts Centre put together a four-day commemorative program of free events. From Thursday 12 to Sunday 15 February, the festivities featured two concerts from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, including a recreation of its 1959 opening concert of the Bowl and a romantic Valentine's Day program; a salute to 50 years of rock and roll at the Bowl from RocKwiz and an afternoon picnic of family entertainment. There was also an informative exhibition in the St Kilda Road Foyer Gallery of the Arts Centre and a commemorative website depicting 50 years of the Bowl.

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