Claire Edwardes and her remarkable Ensemble Offspring give rousing reasons why contemporary classical music should be more widely heard, writes Bourby Webster.
‘Time as Revelator’, Ensemble Offspring •
Richard Gill Auditorium, WAAPA, 14 October 2022 •
I entered the Richard Gill Auditorium with a mix of excitement and trepidation to see Ensemble Offspring. I’ve loved what I have heard of “Australia’s leading new music group” on ABC Classic but an entire program of unfamiliar music, pinned to your seat, is a different beast.
I need not have worried. Claire Edwardes is a master performer and producer. She knows her audience and her ensemble. From the brightly coloured, relaxed dress code to the flow of the program and the engaging introductions to each work, Edwardes invites the audience in and quickly removes any “I don’t get it” worries about the musical language.
Conceived as a celebration of live performance after COVID lockdowns, with rhythm at its core, the program starts with the full ensemble, before breaking down to smaller groups, then building back up for a fabulous finale.
Edwardes is careful to note “we are not a percussion ensemble”. Yet, from the opening phrase of Tristan Coelho’s read/write error, we are forced upright in our seats with sharp blurted phrases that see Edwardes (percussion), Lamorna Nightingale (flute), Jason Noble (clarinet), Blair Harris (cello), Benjamin Kopp (piano) and guest violinist Alexandra Osborne testing their instruments in every conceivable percussive way. The piece is brilliantly evocative of “data scattered across a failing hard drive,” with phenomenal playing: tight and energetic. The superlative collaboration makes this work shine – truly a “glitchy, beat-driven work recalling the digital challenges of our time”.
William Gardiner’s Hebbian Theory and Errollyn Wallen’s Dervish showcase violin, clarinet and piano, and cello and piano respectively. Both works are more lyrical and flowing than the opener, but still a relentless sense of rhythm pervades every phrase. The wonderful violin tone throughout the Gardiner, and the closing morse code-like repeated piano notes gradually disappearing to nothing are utterly magical. Physical knocking on the piano and cello in the Wallen is an intriguing technique, and Harris’s virtuosity with octaves, double stopping, thumb positions and more on cello enthrals.
The Visitor (sorry, I can’t stay) is the highlight for me. Composed by WAAPA lecturer Alice Humphries, who was there for the performance, the work portrays the mating habits and behaviour of bower birds. With Edwardes performing on salad bowls and cake tins, among other found objects and percussion, it has huge personality. In their colourful clothes and with such characterful flirtatious playing, the ensemble could almost have been birds themselves.
Nathan Daughtrey’s Veuve (“not the champagne, but just as bubbly” notes Noble) is a visually physical bluesy duet, with Edwardes powerful on the massive marimba, leading delightfully articulated echoing phrases from Noble on bass clarinet. “I don’t know about you, but I’m totally spent,” Edwardes says before the full ensemble launches into Holly Harrison’s Bend/Boogie/Break. It’s clear they are having a tonne of fun as they find a final burst of energy for the finish line.
This is an ensemble of Australia’s finest musicians performing innovative, relevant and engaging new music that bursts with imagination, energy and inspiration. I only wish a capacity crowd was there to enjoy it as much as I did. New music needs to be as carefully programmed and brilliantly performed as Ensemble Offspring consistently does to ensure its reputation grows and bigger audiences assure its rightful place on centre stage.
Pictured top: Claire Edwardes knows her ensemble and her audience. Photo: Chris Hayles
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