Wonderful setting for a concert
What to do? Head for the side that had the best view of the pianist’s hands? Zero in on the other side, where the percussion instruments are arrayed? Or go for the middle where the other players are best seen, and where the view of the harbour makes a stunning backdrop. It’s a common dilemma for concert-goers in the Sydney Opera House’s Utzon Room, and one which the near-capacity crowd at Broken Consorts seemed to revel in. I opted to sit on the percussion side and was richly rewarded.
This collaboration between Ensemble Offspring and Ironwood offered many delights, all enhanced by the introductory chats from percussionist Claire Edwardes and composers Felicity Wilcox and Damien Ricketson. The intimacy of the Utzon Room’s wrap-around seating and the physical closeness of performers and audience make for an easy, warm relationship, where the listeners are readily drawn into the experience.
Seamlessly wove a magical mixture from the early 17th century to 2015
Ironwood is a group known for its superb presentations of period music played on ‘original’ instruments, while Ensemble Offspring performs the newest of new music. Together they wove a magical mixture which seamlessly moved from the early 17th century to 2015. Clocking in at just 70 minutes, the concert was a concentrated panorama of music which was varied, engaging, playful, occasionally baffling and always involving.
Matthew Locke’s Consort of Fower Parts opened proceedings, with its deep, plangent early section followed by faster, cheerier music—I could somehow envisage it as ideal film music.
Felicity Wilcox introduced the world première of her commissioned work Uncovered Ground by describing it as a dialogue between early music and new music, which may stand as a description of the entire concert. I found her introduction very helpful to an understanding of the piece, particularly the indication that she had first written the string quartet section with which the piece ends, and built up the work from there. A series of striking chords give an arresting introduction, before all the strings and percussion get very busy. Some beautiful passages for strings and wind instruments lead on to a great crescendo from all instruments before the lovely final section. There was music to intrigue, music to find vaguely familiar, music to wonder at.
I particularly enjoyed the piece aptly described by percussionist Claire Edwards as a ‘weird and wacky version’ of Matthew Locke’s Suite from The Tempest, composed in 1674. It featured prepared piano and percussion. My vantage point gave me a ringside seat to watch the energetic skills of Edwards as she leapt between vibraphone, various-sized gongs, blocks and bells, as well as several instruments I could not readily put a name to. The piece finishes with all players joining in song.
Trace Elements, the 2003 work by Ensemble Offspring’s Damien Ricketson, fitted this context well, with delicate flutterings from the flute, gradually joined by the other instruments offering fragmentary sounds, moving into a more energetic section which culminates in a wild crescendo. Cellist Daniel Yeadon worked to great effect in the extended cadenza, before the work ended with more bare fragments that were well suited to the description of ‘spectral sounds’. I found special interest in the composer’s statement that the work could be played by any two wind instruments with any two string instruments.
The oldest work in the concert, William Lawes’ Consorts in Six Parts, was perfectly programed for this combination of instruments—surprisingly, to my ears, the percussion in particular seemed to belong in the era. It was a beautiful work to ease into the early evening.
Mary Finsterer’s Silva was composed in 2013 for Ensemble Offspring with Claire Edwards on percussion. The piano and other instruments built a firm foundation for the percussion instruments, which came to the fore in fine style. I found special joy in an attractive section featuring the vibraphone, flanked by two feature sections on tom-tom. There were delicate tunes, compelling rhythms and some moments of quiet contemplation, all rounded out by a blaze of percussive glory.
A most unusual concert, with much to savour and plenty of surprises.
Ensemble Offspring and Ironwood: BROKEN CONSORTS | 28 February 2015