Ensemble Offspring specialises in new music. This program was the last of 3 in a whole weekend festival of new music and events presented at the interesting “Nest Creative Space” in Alexandria, a converted warehouse with an open space in middle and organic and somewhat chaotic looking art booths all around. Ensemble Offspring had 2 weeks of preparatory workshops here, leading up to the festival.
The music ranged from challenging to fun and was always rewarding for those prepared to put in the effort. The audience was an earnest lot and were clearly engaged, even with the more demanding pieces.
There were six works by six different composers on the program and all composers were present except the two dead ones; as Claire Edwardes the director of Ensemble Offspring said, it is the best they could do…
Roland Peelman, until recently conductor of the Song Company, is a very capable conductor of especially early and new music. He directed two of the works (Boulez & Pozniak) with great insight, precision and expressive leadership. It is a joy to watch him conduct; it often leads to additional insights into the music.
Pierre Boulez: Derive (1984)
This piece is scored for flute violin, cello, clarinet, piano and percussion. It is a series of overlapping blocks of sound, with sudden bursts and trills from the solo instruments. It works down to a gentle ending section with long sustained notes and little bursts from the clarinet and piano.
Fausto Romitelli: Domeniche alla Periffieria Dellimpero (2000)
Although scored for classical instruments, this piece emulated electric guitar-like distorted sonorities, rocking sounds and string scratches. The occasional high lyrical melody on the violin stood out in contrast. It was impressive to do this without a conductor, the ensemble was clearly well together and the slow pulse held throughout.
The second movement added harmonica, pitch pipe and kazoo. It was again strident in sonority, although now gentle in volume, employing amongst other techniques, harmonics in the stringed instruments, glissandos and slapping strings against the finger board. Lamorna Nightingale, the flautist, conducted a long section in a slow 4 (while playing the pitch pipe) and through a gradual accelerando.
Alex Pozniak: Extract from Things to Come (2016)
The extract is a part of a larger work to be performed in 2018. It starts with a strong piano and percussion attack. It is more harmonic than earlier pieces and its driving jivy rhythms lighten the atmosphere with lots of fun in the melodic instruments. Peelman was totally into every nuance of the phrasing in his conducting and provided a great security blanket for the performers. Pozniak was clearly pleased with the ensemble’s performance and the audience’s reception of the work.
Lachlan Skipworth: Intercurrent (2016)
This piece, a world premier performance, starts with a prepared recording, joined by the ensemble’s usual virtuosic playing on the xylophone, bass clarinet and piano. The work is characterised by gentle but insistent rhythms and overlapping ostinato patterns. The recorded music is based on the same material but reversed; a ‘reverse canon.’ It is rather faster moving harmonically than a minimalist piece, but has same mesmerising rhythms with constant semiquaver movement.
James Bradwbury: Esolang (2016)
Scored for violin, 2 cellos and piano, this piece opened with a scratchy grating cello which seemed magnetically drawn to the open C string. You seemed to hear it even when it was not playing. The other strings joined with similar harsh sounds. Occasional clear notes or short phrases begin to emerge from the texture of noise. Increasing tension is suddenly eased to a pianissimo, with gentle direct stroking of piano strings and gentle metallic percussion on the piano strings too. Again it builds towards the end with sounds akin to fingernails on the blackboard.
Juan Felipe Waller: Detone Retune (2014)
Waller was the composer in residence during the two week workshop and festival. The instrumentation for this work included tiles (from Bunnings!), metal rods, woodblocks and styrofoam, all played with percussion mallets and small metal rods. It was a heavily syncopated bit of fun.
The concert was impressive for the brave choice of new music presented and the excellent musicianship and dedication of Ensemble Offspring to bring it to life. It is great there are groups in Sydney so enthusiastically dedicated to sharing new music.