Ensemble Offspring bend time and rhythm in all their glory

by | Jul 17, 2022 | Ambassador thoughts, Chamber Groups, Composer, Ensembles, Percussion

Ensemble Offspring | Time as Revelator

Sat 16 July, 2022 | Carriageworks

‘Twas a brisk Winter’s evening in Sydney, but this did not curb the enthusiasm of the full house for Ensemble Offspring’s latest large-scale performance, in partnership with Carriageworks. Although our party was halved, the tickets were snapped up by an eager waiting list and we were warmly welcomed by Carriageworks CEO Blair French. And then straight into the rhythmic world of rising star Holly Harrison’s Bend/Boogie/Break for six musicians, with spiky bass clarinet riffs, funk drum solos and theremin-like cello solos evocative of a haunted house scene in a film noir. Notes were bent and broken and the ensemble playing was tight. A great start to the evening.

Next was Steve Reich’s Vermont Counterpoint, originally scored for many flutes, all pre-recorded, with a solo flute. Artistic Director Claire Edwardes, dismayed with the lack of solo percussion music from Reich, arranged this piece, recorded all the many parts on tape and then danced between her vibraphone and xylophone in a display of effortless virtuosity – the joy in her smile was as intoxicating as the music was hypnotic. The highlight – seeing her dancing shadows on the side walls as she played! Kudos to lighting designer Roderick van Gelder.

I do love a party piece, and the next was clearly a favourite of Ensemble Offspring. After a brief introduction from Edwardes about the theme of tonight’s concert – ‘time and rhythm in all its glory’, with a smattering of funk, repetition, jazz and minimalism, we heard about the concept of the next piece. Iannis Xenakis’ Plekto (Braids) shows off his great ability for counterpoint, with the play between the six musicians becoming a musical knot – Edwardes finds the piece quite spiritual to play. We the audience found it to be like listening to six friends having a heated intellectual conversation, with the game centred on ‘who’s turn is it to come in when?’ played confidently.

Our next emerging talent, an alumnus of Ensemble Offspring’s Hatched Academy, was the perfect sorbet to the Xenakis. William Gardiner’s new work Hebbian Theory was like having a quiet cocktail in a late-night New York jazz club. It was soothing and cinematic, with delicate ensemble playing between the violin, clarinet and prepared piano. Again beautiful lighting from van Gelder.

The final piece was worth heading out in the cold for! Tania León’s Ritmicas, transported us to Carnivalé, Cuban style, with an expanded chamber orchestra featuring 13 players on stage and Roland Peelman’s energetic and dance-like conducting, complete with Latin entrée. The full band, resplendent in colourful outfits and joie de vivre, took us a Cuban funk journey centring on a polyrhythmic clave theme, with the many duo and trio improvisations in the middle section rotating around an ear worm worthy refrain the highlight of the night. Sensational solos from saxophonist Nick Russoniello, fantastic ensemble playing from the enlarged Ensemble Offspring and a fab duo from our two percussionists – which may have improved with the drum kit in the centre of the band for better sightlines. The epic work finished on the down low, not the big bang we were all expecting, but we were not disappointed. León clearly deserved her 2019 Pulitzer Prize.

With music this good, we could mistakenly think we were in Manhattan, but thank all above it’s happening in our very own town. More please!

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