Celebration and renewal

Rachel Campbell

Damien Ricketson

Damien Ricketson

Since 1995 Sydney-based Ensemble Offspring have been performing and commissioning new musical works. These new works are often presented in themed concerts alongside pieces written up to 80 years ago, highlighting some of the broad themes in recent music. Partch’s Bastards, for example, took up instrument building and alternative tunings, and other projects have centred on movements such as Parisian Spectralism and Polish Sonorism. This contextualising has an enriching effect, both in bringing out recent currents and ideas, and fostering new interpretative pathways within individual works. Offspring writer-in-residence Rachel Campbell talked to artistic director Damien Ricketson about the ensemble’s work.

Programming

At the core of the ensemble is a dedication to bringing out new material. A continual mission has been providing a platform, an outlet, for the aspirations of numerous young composers. This entails embracing risk in programming—the potential for failure is high but so too are the potential rewards, and some of these have been astounding.

The ensemble’s birth was an accident. Co-founder Matthew Shlomowitz and I, like any composers, just wanted a gig, a chance to hear our music. But we were able to seize on the enthusiasm of our performers to go on to promote fellow composers as well as countless seminal 20th century works that should also be heard.

It’s meaningful to draw new work into some kind of context, be it historical or just a broader, less parochial vision of contemporary Australian music. Profiling a key composer or theme and then drawing links to the activities occurring here and now helps to illuminate new material. Ideally we aim to present a new music event where the totality of the experience extends beyond the sum of its component parts.

Bozidar Kos

The forthcoming A Composer Profile—Bozidar Kos, Celebrating 70 Years features chamber music by Bozidar and by younger composers who have been his students at the Sydney Conservatorium. A particular highlight will be the world premiere of Fatamorgana, especially commissioned for the event.

Bozidar is a composer with an eye for detail, his works are like well-crafted gems—the more you go into them, the more you appreciate their depth and refinement. His music draws upon a raft of influences ranging from the French Spectralist tradition to his own jazz and folk heritage. His eye for detail also made him a highly respected educator. To this day, the best composition lesson I ever had was when he once tore strips off me.

We also have the world premiere of a piece by English composer Michael Finnissy dedicated to the ensemble’s co-founder Matthew Shlomowitz. In our postmodern milieu he is one of a few composers drawing tangible references to other musics in strange and wonderful ways. There are emotive extremes—he’s a new and different kind of romantic.

Philip Glass

The Philip Glass we’re performing in Concert 2, 2004: Art of Glass is the early stuff. This is the pre-Einstein on the Beach experimental process music from a period when the composer was little known outside of a small New York loft scene and his music was a profound alternative to Euro-modernism.

Over the years, as Minimalism has become more style than concept, the term has become something of a conservative war-cry. In this concert we hope to recapture the bold experimental aesthetic that underpins the music’s origins. This is music stripped to its bare essentials, mechanical patterns repeated again and again. It will either irritate the hell out of people or induce a wonderful hypnotic state of listening. Philip Glass has authorised us to perform these works usually reserved for his own ensemble. We find ourselves in the curious position of being the first band outside the Philip Glass Ensemble to perform works such as Music In Fifths.

There’s also a piece I’ve been working on with Melbourne poet Christopher Wallace-Crabbe whom I met on residence at Bundanon. The work, A Line Has Two, is a spacious meditation on time and impermanence. Temporal references pervade the music’s structure, drawing a boundary between the familiar and the unfamiliar, from citations of Strauss and Mahler to exotic instrumentation such as the Tusut, an ancient Arabic glass instrument, and the ancient Greek aulos.

International

We have an invitation to play at the World Music Days in Croatia next year. And last year we toured Europe as guests of the Warsaw Autumn Festival. We performed in London, Amsterdam, Krakow and Warsaw, and the festival commissioned my Trace Elements which will receive its Australian première in the Bozidar Kos concert.

At Warsaw we had a packed auditorium of over 300 people. The reviews were good and the standard of playing was commented on a lot—especially encouraging given that we were performing back to back with some of Europe’s leading new music specialists such as MusikFabrik.

The Future of New Music

I think the more experimental end of the spectrum will always cycle between a more peripheral and more central role in the creation of new classical music. We’ve had a very conservative decade or 2 but I am encouraged by signs of a renaissance of interest in musical alternatives to the mainstay classical staples. When I was talking with the artistic director of the Warsaw Autumn, he felt they went from the radical 60s to a very conservative position at the end of the century and now their audiences were back in the mood for something a little more challenging. Encouragingly, this demand is not coming from old die-hard modernists, but from the young generation. Indeed, over half the audience at our Warsaw concert were under the age of 30.

Ultimately I am a long-term optimist. I keep the flame alive. I genuinely believe that there is a new ‘new music’ and it will have its place enriching the art-music tradition of the future. The possibility of a novel, original sonic experience that has a profound emotive effect is still very much alive and apparent.

A Composer Profile—Bozidar Kos, Ensemble Offspring; Sydney Conservatorium of Music, July 4; Art of Glass, Ensemble Offspring; The Studio, Sydney Opera House, July 29, www.newmusicnetwork.com.au/ ensoffspring

RealTime issue #61 June-July 2004 pg. 53

© Rachel Kent; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2004
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