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Ensemble Offspring is a virtuoso team of Australian musicians renowned for exhilarating and dynamic music making. They take Phillip Glass's 'Music With Moving Parts' and transform his very early 'dots' into living music with multiple organs, percussion, winds and voices in a performance bound to be an unforgettable Festival experience. Weekend Notes chews the fat with artistic director and percussionist Claire Edwardes.
Reading the ABOUT section on your website is enough to make this reviewer's head spin. You came together originally as Spring Ensemble, the resident ensemble in Roger Woodward's Spring Festival. That was 20 years ago and the diversity of your performances since then is remarkable. Can you describe the ethos of Ensemble Offspring in 50 words or less (or even a bit more) for those new to your musical style and range?
I guess eclectic is a good word to describe our musical taste and output. We all really like to stretch ourselves both musically and mentally which is why we have all settled on specialising in 'living' music ie music of our time. We love the variety – every week is completely different – one week we will be arranging early music for prepared piano and prepared vibraphone (as part of our Broken Consorts collaboration with Ironwood) and the next we might be collaborating with composer/violinist Jon Rose on an improvised score.
Phillip Glass's 'Music with Changing Parts' is a rarely performed opus. What drew you to it as a vehicle for Ensemble Offspring's unique brand of performance?
This Phillip Glass work from 1970 is one of his earliest works – but unlike the other early works it is lush and almost romantic. He takes the spare repetitive nature of earlier works such as Music in Similar Motion and Music in Contrary Motion but this time adds wind instruments, which play held notes over this moving texture. These soaring lines give a wonderful sense of direction to the music. We love the challenge of a long form work like this- the keyboard player who opens the work doesn't get to stop during the 1 hour work – it's like the musical equivalent of a marathon, both physically and mentally.
The performers who make up Ensemble Offspring are a talented and eclectic bunch of overachievers. What does a typical rehearsal look like?
Well for one thing there is a lot of laughter and a great deal of fun to be had during rehearsals. As we are all old friends, despite the sometimes serious and complex nature of the music we play, our rehearsals are often very light hearted. We are of course very focused and thorough in our preparations – this is an absolute must for getting the music to the highest level possible – but we all play in Ensemble Offspring because we love making music together and it just has to be fun, otherwise what's the point? Audiences often comment that they can feel and see this on stage when they come to an EO concert. At the end of the day it is about giving our audiences a unique and memorable experience and Music with Changing Parts is definitely that!
The core members of Ensemble Offspring performing in 'Music with Changing Parts' include Claire Edwardes on percussion, Jason Noble on clarinet and keyboards and Zubin Kanga, also on keyboards. Guest performers include Roland Peelman and Gabi Sultana, also on keyboards. That's a lotta keyboards!
Well the early music of Phillip Glass is indeed very keyboard (well organ) focused and we need to cover 8 moving lines, which means having as many 'hands on deck' as possible. I play keyboard percussion instruments including marimba and vibraphone and then when the soaring wind lines are added over the top of the constantly moving organ/percussion lines the texture becomes lush and full and constantly changing (as the title suggests).
Have I left anyone out of the line up?
Our Melbourne guests are Peter Knight – artistic director and trumpet player of the Australian Art Orchestra, Aviva Endean, the amazing composer and clarinetist and Tom Noonan, a wonderful young jazz saxophone player. Then from Sydney we also have our core flute player Lamorna Nightingale coming along for the ride, along with her partner Jim Nightingale who is one of Australia's top saxophone players. So it's really a cast of thousands!
I see with regret that your sometime accordionist James Crabb won't be appearing at the PSMF. Is it just me or is the accordion making a comeback? Or maybe it never went away?
Funnily enough I am about to purchase an accordion myself as I need to learn it for another Ensemble Offspring show – of course I will never be of the standard of James Crabb but yes I do think the accordion is making a come back and I daresay James is responsible for this in Australia at least. He is a very special musician and collaborating with him on several projects a few years back was extremely inspiring.
Have the members of Ensemble Offspring spent much time on the Mornington Peninsula, in particular St John the Evangelist in Flinders where you will be performing? I suppose I'm asking if you are aware of the breath-taking beauty of the venues selected for the Peninsula Summer Music Festival, one of the characteristics that sets this festival apart from the common run in the modest opinion of this reviewer at least.
I actually presented a solo percussion recital at PSMF 2 years ago – it was in the yoga room of one of the resorts down there and it was so memorable and beautiful. I was not able to check out other concerts last time I was down due to the busy nature of my schedule (too often the case for festival artists) but this year we look forward to checking out some of the concerts in Flinders whilst we are down. Including our own family concert, Blinky Bill (featuring all Australian music), at 11am on Saturday 9th January. And yes I do remember how stunning the surrounds were and I can't wait to go back!