Claire conquers the problems in online performance

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Claire Edwardes. Photo: Fiona Hamilton.

Music / Claire Edwardes “Studio Concert”, online, April 16. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY

SCHEDULED to appear at the Canberra International Music Festival, Claire Edwardes and Ensemble Offspring have had to put live concerts on hold due to the pandemic, but her drive to keep going has seen her turn to online performances.

Edwardes is a major driving force in the Australian music scene. Ensemble Offspring just celebrated their 25th year together of bringing new and traditional percussion-based music to Australia and the world.

Without her efforts, many Australian composers would never hear their music performed. Funding her lifelong project is always problematic and time consuming, but recently that was made much harder when the Australia Council did not include Ensemble Offspring in their multi-year funding. But Edwardes, always resolute, she has moved on and gone online with two sold-out Zoom concerts. But nothing can replace the funding that would have seen her and Ensemble Offspring go on to commission new works and create some of the best music that Australia has ever heard.

Beginning with the JS Bach/Hans Leo Hassler “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”, for marimba, this simple chorale had a clear tonal quality that distinguishes Bach from other composers. But when it’s being played by Claire Edwardes, it can sound extra special. As did the following Bach piece “Lute Suite in E minor” BWV 996, prelude, allemande, courante, also played on the marimba.

The Elena Kats-Chernin work, “Violet’s Etude”, for marimba was, of course, a different sound to the Bach. When something is specifically written for the marimba the music feels more at home with itself, it’s more realistic. That was most evident in this piece.

Evelyn Glennie is the most known percussionist in the world, and as Edwardes joked, “maybe I’m the second”. This piece sounded a bit like a work for piano. “Giles”, for marimba sang with a song-like tune, and it was played with particular reverence.

Next came a work by Claire Edwardes, “Ether Lines”, for the amazing Waterphone. The Waterphone looks a bit like an upside-down spiky umbrella. When tapped or bowed it sounded like a cross between a large empty metal drum and an echoing pipe. The sound rang out over the internet with a spooky and eerily effect.

The short clear tonal work titled, “One Hundred”, by Robert Oetomo for vibraphone suited the instrument perfectly. Its quality was completely particular to this metallic instrument that produces a wafting, lustrous sound.

The world premiere of Andrew Ford’s work “Hook”, for vibraphone came next. Inspired by the character Peter Pan, and also a hook which is a musical repetition or phrase that is designed to hook people in, did just that. Over several stylistic effects, it did sound a bit like a tune from a 1920s cartoon, which fitted the flighty character of Peter Pan. It showed great craft and skill in the composition, and in the playing.

Ending with “Falling Embers”, by Australian composer Ella Macens for vibraphone, another world premiere, this one inspired by bushfires. With the combination of bowed and struck tones, the sound of the piece flowed with deep reverberations in a somewhat child-like, yet sophisticated composition that was played with amazing precision.

It looks like online concerts will be with us for some time. Even through a slight technical hitch and not the best sound quality, which will be sorted out in coming concerts, when they are of the performance quality as this one was, they are worth tuning into.

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