One reason for the success of Kathryn Selby’s “A Little Lunch Music” series at Sydney’s City Recital Hall is the wonderful variety presented. Not, of course, to forget the consistently high quality of lunchtime fare.
Yesterday’s concert was no exception. Billed as Ensemble Offspring, the lunch menu offered just two of the ensemble’s core members, Claire Edwardes playing vibraphone and hi hat, with Jason Noble on clarinets. While this combination of instruments may have appeared odd to the almost full stalls, something more likely to be heard at The Basement or Bennet’s Lane, there is no doubt the enthusiastic audience were, by hour’s end, convinced otherwise. The timbre of all instruments blended impeccably well, underscoring the confidence of the composers, all contemporary, who wrote works included in the eclectic program. It might have been sub-billed as a degustation menu.
A bracket from Elena Kats-Chernin opened the concert: first a cheerful rag for solo clarinet, “Peggy’s Minute Rag”, designed no doubt to settle the audience. Noble’s skill and feel for the blues had more than a settling effect. Rather it seemed to heighten the audience’s receptivity. The rag segued smoothly into “Blue Silence”, a heart-warming and emotional duet for bass clarinet and vibraphone, written as a sort of donna nobis pacem for those suffering with or from mental illness. The atmospheric line evoked by Claire Edwardes skilful mallet work was noble work indeed. There is a special unity in the way Ms Edwardes plays her many instruments which belies the perception of a percussionist as one who belts things with sticks. Your correspondent has not seen her play the bass drum, but suspects it would evoke the same aural and visual image of beauty as presented yesterday with the vibraphone.
That a composer should dedicate some quality time to writing a solo for high hat beggars belief. That is until the reality of the percussionist’s lot is revealed. Try lugging ungainly marimbas, vibes and such around, all the while looking after a couple of tiny children. Matthew Shlomowitz answered the call with “Hi Hat and Me”, an amusing work for hi hat and voice, which clearly fitted not only the bill but probably fitted into the kids’ stroller as well.
Continuing the light-hearted vein, “Bedtime Stories” from Tom Johnson blended a group of simple stories, spoken by Edwardes with a rather minimalist clarinet interjecting and responding. It reminded of a sort of modernist “Peter and the Wolf”, covering not one story but rather a range, from climbing trees to stock market investment.
Vintage Ross Edwards followed with “Binyang”, and “Interior”. Jason Noble played with clarity, bringing northern Australian spirits to Angel Place. Claire Edwardes accompanied on Aboriginal clapping sticks. Mark Pollard’s “Just a Moment” then continued the peaceful theme with an atmospheric vibraphone solo which again demonstrated Edwardes at her best.
A work by young composer, Melody Eotvos, called “Leafcutter” seemed a metaphor for a better human society, inspired, as the audience was enlightened, by leafcutter ants and their treatment of queen ants.
Dessert came in the form of a final bracket of works by Mark Glentworth (a vibraphone solo “Blues for Gilbert”), Lachlan Davidson (Autumn Cannon Ball for clarinet and high hat) and Andrew Ford (“Getting Blue”, for bass clarinet and vibraphone). Aside from reinforcing the vibraphone as a fine instrument for expressing the blues, the bracket proved yet again that a concert can indeed be ended with a satisfyingly quiet, if emotional, mood.
Ensemble Offspring can be heard next in “On Loop” at Carriageworks, Bay 20 on Saturday December 1 at 8.00pm. Details at ensembleoffspring.com