Friday, March 31, 2023

Techno Folk, Ensemble Offspring. At The Street Theatre, March 29. Guest reviewer Felix Huber.

Jason Noble on clarinet, Claire Edwardes on percussion. Photo by Peter Hislop. 

THIS week’s  performance from Ensemble Offspring at the Street Theatre was testament to a thriving but not often visible scene of new classical and contemporary music. 

Featuring the trio of Claire Edwardes on percussion, Jason Noble on clarinet and Benjamin Kopp on piano, the show immediately promised to entertain as Noble walked on carrying a bass clarinet.

The first piece of the night’s varied program, “Paisaje Folclórico No. 2” by Argentinian composer Sebastián Tozzola, featured Noble on the instrument with piano accompaniment by Kopp. The piece began in the clarinet’s higher register and gradually worked its way down until the full depth of the instrument was on display, just in time for Kopp to begin the swaying accompaniment for the dance section of the piece.

The audience was then treated to various pairings and solo performances from the three members of the group, each with its own charming backstory and appeal. Most impressive was Kopp’s rendition of Karen Tanaka’s “Techno Etudes”, a three movement work full of blistering rhythms at breakneck speed which required impressive technical mastery.

Throughout the set, Edwardes detailed the group’s efforts at creating a program of what she called “living music”, a rare thing in a field so often fixated with the past. Of particular emphasis was Edwardes’ commissioning of women composers in an effort to create equity in what has historically been a male dominated discipline. Her  passion for music which is both current and progressive was infectious and cast a very promising light on the shape of music to come.

Not only was the night’s program a brilliant snapshot of current classical and contemporary music, but it was also incredibly well thought out, with each piece taking the audience to a whole new musical world than the previous. The pure chaotic energy of the Techno Etudes was followed by Alice Chance’s “Mirroring”, a calming piece for vibraphone solo which Edwardes introduced as “basically a pop song”.

The show’s centrepiece was a commissioned work from Australian jazz pianist and composer Joe Chindamo, which was the first piece of the night to feature all three musicians simultaneously. The work united the three musicians, giving each their place to shine, and creatively blended interesting harmonic textures with the avant-garde. Moments of melodic stability were frequently interrupted by frantic runs from Edwardes on the vibraphone, rumbling dissonances from Kopp’s piano and squeals from Noble’s Clarinet. The piece was challenging, yet there was an enormous sense of satisfaction in the room as it culminated in all three musicians playing triangles in a cheeky literal nod to the trio associated imagery of the work.

To finish the night, the group played their own arrangements of a selection of Chick Corea’s “Children’s Songs”, a perfect conclusion to the thrilling program. Throughout these final pieces, all three performers exuded an all-encompassing love for music which had been visible from each of them all night. One could not help but smile.