The Sydney Eisteddfod is by far and away the largest arts festival of its type in Australia and one of the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere. It features talented students and emerging young artists from around the country, and Board Chair Max Holzner is guiding the ship into the future. His vision for the May-to-September program that celebrates thousands of young creatives in disciplines from ballet to poetry to classical music is aimed at igniting their dreams with world-class training and professional development. 

It’s a bold initiative for the nearly 100-year-old institution and one that represents another step off the island continent and into international waters. Over the next decade, the Eisteddfod’s leadership is looking to expand its network of global arts partnerships by creating a pipeline for domestic talent onto the world’s biggest stages. 

Max is uniquely driven to create these professional and mentorship opportunities for the Eisteddfod’s participants—he’s a former participant himself and knows what a difference professional guidance can make in a career. Now, instead of competing for accolades, he’s fighting to give the young people in his charge the chance to change their lives through the organization’s work.  

That’s why he and Kim Walker—former Sydney Conservatorium of Music Dean and Sydney Eisteddfod director, and current Artistic and Executive Director of Orvieto Musica—connected.  This year, they’ve announced the inaugural Sydney Eisteddfod String Quartet Residency at Orvieto Musica, one of the most prestigious chamber music institutes in the central Italian hills. 

We sat down with Max to discuss his vision for the Sydney Eisteddfod, its inspiring new direction, and all the details of this wonderful new opportunity.

 

OM: We’re excited to be partnering with the Sydney Eisteddfod! Tell our readers about the Sydney Eisteddfod String Quartet Residency at Orvieto Musica. 

Max: Absolutely. This is the debut season of our five-year partnership with Orvieto Musica. We’re proud to be sending four of our prize winners to the festival for three weeks this summer for an immersive experience in string chamber music training, performance, and Italian culture.

Of course, it’s thrilling to be jetting off to Italy, but I know from my own experience this is more than just an important opportunity for Eisteddfod award winners to share their talents and develop their skills. It’s a chance to make the professional connections that are so important for success in the arts. 

Experiences like this also form indelible moments and memories that shape careers and artistic ideals, and they produce the results that we can take into the boardroom and out into the arts community.  

 

OM: For our American readers, can you describe what an eisteddfod is?

Max: An eisteddfod is a competition-based arts festival that typically takes place over weeks or months. It can include many different disciplines and is similar to events like the Youth America Grand Prix for ballet. 

There is a vast ecology of eisteddfods held throughout Australian towns and cities each year, and Sydney hosts the flagship event. We draw up to 28,000 applications each season, and we focus heavily on training and community in addition to elite performance opportunities. We award over $400,000 in scholarships and prizes to our artists, and participants perform in iconic venues like the Sydney Opera House. 

 

OM: You’ve been doing a lot of development work for the Sydney Eisteddfod—tell us about some of your most recent successes. 

Max: As you know, we’ve been developing partnerships like the Sydney Eisteddfod String Quartet Residency at Orvieto Musica, and we’ve recently been working on a relationship with the Houston Ballet. 

One of the most exciting pieces of news is that, after 90 years of operating as a decentralized festival, we have recently acquired a performing arts premises and are now hosting an arts hub that provides a home for some of the most dynamic and significant arts organizations in the nation. We’re very grateful to our forebearers and the great work they’ve accomplished to put us in this position (including Kim Walker herself as a former Sydney Eisteddfod director), and through their efforts, we are in a position to take the Sydney Eisteddfod to the next level from a home base at last. 

Of course, a project like this is a major undertaking, and by working alongside other leaders in the arts industry we’ll be able to offer several performing arts spaces for our participants by the middle of 2024. 

 

OM: That’s an extraordinary achievement for the Sydney Eisteddfod and a testament to your leadership. What impact will this have on the future of the festival?

Max: What this building emphasizes—as a cornerstone of the festival’s overarching strategy—is the importance of the community aspect of our work, and the understanding that our role is not just hosting, but training future generations of artists. 

This is a key differentiator from our previous mission. For nearly a century, the Sydney Eisteddfod has been about creating an opportunity for success and inspiring Australia’s young artists. 

Now is the time to build on that tradition by actively forging the pathways for our talented participants to engage with the professional world. 

Yes, an award or a performance is a culmination of hard work—but if we actively cultivate valuable partnerships like the Sydney Eisteddfod String Quartet Residency at Orvieto Musica, it will also be the beginning of a flourishing, brilliant future. 

Many years ago I participated in the Sydney Eisteddfod, and it was the beginning of a career that has since brought me back to its galas and stages. My daughter is participating for the first time this year, and it’s a profound and personal reminder of how much bigger this experience is than a moment of perfection or a misstep in a routine. 

The Sydney Eisteddfod has seeded the dreams of thousands and thousands of young people across the nation—now, we are going to help them grow and come to life.



Learn more about Orvieto Musica, the Sydney Eisteddfod, and how you can experience the Sydney Eisteddfod String Quartet Residency at Orvieto Musica this season. Follow Orvieto Musica on Facebook and Instagram, and the Sydney Eisteddfod on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn to keep up with all their exciting events.