Offspring Bites 2 Cassie TO (b. 1994)
Avialae (2015) [8:57] Holly HARRISON (b. 1988)
Vibe Rant (2016) [6:54] Bree van REYK (b. 1978)
Light for the First Time (2017) [10:33] Melody EÖTVÖS (b. 1984)
Tardigradus (2017) [6:16] Andrea KELLER (b. 1973)
Love in Solitude (2017) [14:47]
rec. Recital Hall West, Sydney Conservatorium of Music; Eugene Goossens Hall, Sydney ENSEMBLE OFFSPRING 0784927459812 [47:27]
This is Ensemble Offspring’s second edition in an ongoing project that links works written for them to a visual element. These pairings can be found on vimeo.com/ensembleoffspring. This programme celebrates female composers, and while I’ve restricted myself to listening to what’s on the CD the quality of the music certainly invites an exploration of “the full Offspring Bites experience.”
Avialae by Cassie To is a lively evocation of nature, incorporating the birdsong of endangered Australian species with the intention of bringing attention to the fragility of the environment in which these birds exist. The birdsong is cleverly woven into quite an energetic score which takes off after an improvisatory sounding opening – the wild sounds becoming organised and forming a satisfying euphony. Vibe Rant by Holly Harrison is quite a jazzy number, with syncopated rhythms and an up-beat feel. The vibraphone has a significant part but this is not a concerto, the other instruments as integral and quite as virtuoso in moods that take us into “a stylistic patchwork that embraces influences from vernacular genres that include jazz, pop, hip-hop and metal.”
Bree van Reyk’s Light for the First Time is dedicated to the composer’s daughter, and “it imagines the experience of opening one’s eyes for the first time” while still in the womb. The luminosity of sustained and close-knit tones unfold with a slow, breathing undulation that gathers in intensity. The instruments are joined by their own echoes, augmenting the sound and the beauty of the revelation suggested in the title. The title of Melody Eötvös’s Tardigradus refers to the tiny Tardigrade, a strange animal that can survive in all kinds of extreme conditions. The music sets up a surreal acoustic space, with rhythmic and colourful percussion accompanying a solo flute and piccolo, the whole enriched by a soundtrack that is both soundscape and empathetic responder to the actions of the musicians.
The programme closes with Andrea Keller’s Love in Solitude, “a meditation on the eloquent thoughts presented in Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke.” A soundtrack which uses subtly adapted instrumental sounds also has well-modulated readings of texts by Rilke, the feeling of solitude emphasised by isolated chimes and nuanced tones with the ‘Romantic’ piano as a backdrop, the sounds of which are also augmented with strings plucked and scraped. A more intense central section keeps these tonalities but compacts them, then adding more outspoken rhythms and introducing incessant melodic fragments, before fragmenting into electronic manipulations that take us through stormier waters back to a more spacious and reflective conclusion.
This is an enterprising and original programme that should be of interest to anyone with an ear for fine contemporary music. The Australian ‘sound’ proves distinctive, and Ensemble Offspring is clearly one of its leading exponents. Recording and presentation of the CD are both excellent, and if you seek to illuminate your imagination with something new then this is a good place to visit.
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