Music / “The Surge”, Ensemble Offspring, National Film and Sound Archive, Arc Cinema, May 21. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY
AUSTRALIAN composers would be much worse off if not for Ensemble Offspring. In an all-Australian music concert, this group not only showed how good it is but how necessary it has become to help get local music out to eager audiences.
In a rare septet format in tribute to John Williams’ ensemble Attacca, Ensemble Offspring was joined by guitarists Vladimir Gorbach and Andrew Blanch to celebrate Williams’ contribution to Australian music with reimagined performances of works by Peter Sculthorpe and Nigel Westlake.
Ensemble Offspring also performed pieces by composers Jessica Wells, Robert Davidson and Felicity Wilcox. These new works were commissioned to create music that address Australia’s cultural past, present and future. Blue Mountains-based video artists Peachey and Mosig created striking video projections to accompany the show.
In a six-concert series performed in the ACT, NSW and Queensland, Ensemble Offspring kicked off its tour here in the National Film and Sound Archive. In the ensemble with the guitarists were Claire Edwardes, percussion; Jason Noble, clarinet; Sonya Lifschitz, piano; Véronique Serret, violin and Ben Ward, double bass.
Normally I would review a concert from a linear perspective discussing the ebb and flow of the music, the quality of the performance and the atmosphere. However, this concert calls for something else.
The works performed and shown were, “Redfern Address”, after Paul Keating’s speech by Paul Mac; Peter Sculthorpe’s “Tropic”; “Diminishing Species” by Jessica Wells, a world premiere (WP); Felicity Wilcox’s, “Tipping Point” (WP); Jessica Wells, “Technophiles” (WP); “Tall Tales but True” by Nigel Westlake; Jessica Wells, “This is the Nineties” (WP) and Robert Davidson’s, “Netsurf” (WP).
“The Surge” is the perfect title for this concert series and the music performed, because it all surged with energy. Taking listeners back to the 1990s and the beginning of the internet when change was surging through the world, the music with its innovative, edgy, but also with beautiful harmonic and melodic progressions offered a thrilling and at times a frightening perspective of what was and is happening in the world.
The concert was a collective of cunning and intimate music, plus videos that interacted with the compositions, some playacting, singing, and many musical techniques that are best when viewed live. If there’s one thing that a concert like this does, it cements the idea that music is performance.
The interaction between the players was fascinating. Watching Edwardes play the marimba, woodblock, bongos, tiny cymbals, a gong and other instruments while programming a computer and answering a mobile, (part of the show) proves that she is one of Australia’s most extraordinary performers. Then watching Serret play musical fireworks on her violin showed she is nothing short of amazing.
Gorbach and Blanch on classical guitars were a focal point. The things they were doing with their instruments added so much to the visual and rhythmic aspects of this concert. Then there were their different styles – absorbing sights and sounds.
That deep, gut-churning voice of the bass clarinet played by Noble, and the standard clarinet did much more than just fill in the bottom and top. His melodies held several pieces together. Watching Lifschitz play the piano inside and out was musically and visually dynamic. Ben Ward sliding, scraping, plucking and bowing his double bass had some lovely duets with the violin.
This is a concert that must be seen. Hearing it is not enough. It was full of play and colour and many incredible techniques. Edwardes got a full-body workout in one piece. The final work “Netsurf” by Robert Davidson had a driving singable melody that was accompanied by a video and commentator from NASA that was on repeat that synced with the music. This work and the whole concert were a blast and a half of colour, fun and musical ingenuity.
Who can be trusted?
In a world of spin and confusion, there’s never been a more important time to support independent journalism in Canberra.
If you trust our work online and want to enforce the power of independent voices, I invite you to make a small contribution.
Every dollar of support is invested back into our journalism to help keep citynews.com.au strong and free.
Ian Meikle, editor