Interview // Claire EDWARDES // co-artistic director of ENSEMBLE OFFSPRING // Sydney, Australia.

Architecture, photography, design… we’ve spoken about many creative professions here on Aloud. but for some reason, we’ve hardly spoken about music at all. It’s not on purpose, it just didn’t happen. This week, we change that and we do it with a bang!

I caught up with Claire Edwardes, co-artistic director of Ensemble Offspring, a ‘contemporary classical music’ group ‘dedicated to the performance of innovative new music’. Challenging, unpredictable and constantly pushing the limits of what we define as music or instruments, the only thing you can bet on is that a performance by E.O. will be unlike anything you might have imagined. So open your mind and your ears, and embark on a journey you won’t forget.

ALOUD: Claire, could you start by giving a short introduction of ENSEMBLE OFFSPRING?

CLAIRE EDWARDES: ENSEMBLE OFFSPRING actually started as The Spring Ensemble, back in 1995. A group of students from the conservatorium got together at the Roger Woodward’s Spring Festival to perform the works of two composers: Damien Ricketson – current co-artistic director – and Matthew Shlomowitz.

For many years, we kept going as a student group without any regular funding. It wasn’t until around 2000 that things started getting more professional and we were successful in securing state and government funding. The company has grown exponentially over the last 7 years but in fact, we have been going for a lot longer.

ALOUD: What is your role within the ensemble?

CLAIRE: As co-artistic directors with Damien, our role is to share the vision and the drive, artistically, of the company. We conceive of the programs together and would never make any important decisions for the company without discussing it first. Managing the direction of group should be the main thing we do but of course it isn’t. The rest of the time is spent doing various administrative tasks. We are a very small company so it’s very hands-on. And of course, I am also a full-time percussionist.

ALOUD: All the musicians in E.O. are classically trained. As a contemporary percussionist, what are your instruments?

CLAIRE: Anything that you can make a noise with that can not be classified as something else. In a piece we did recently, I played a spray can and a milk frother (laughs). As a contemporary percussionist who is really specializing in “new” music, I have to be open to finding my own sounds and making new instruments.

ALOUD: So in this context, what is the difference between noise and music? 

CLAIRE: A piece or a performance should be taking the audience on a journey. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t the typical journey they are used to: it still needs to have climatic moments, light and shade, direction. These elements are what we have in common with an orchestral piece by Beethoven and all these things are necessary for the audience to be drawn into the piece.

ALOUD: The Sizzle program is a series of performances taking place at the Petersham Bowling club. What is the idea behind Sizzle and why decide to bring your work to a such a broad audience, far from a usual classical audience? 

CLAIRE: We see it as a way of putting our music in a different context and hereby, making it more accessible and more enjoyable to an audience that is largely unfamiliar with this sort of work. We try to keep it fun and light by choosing very short pieces. People tend to come with an open mind and leave feeling like they had a stimulating afternoon and learnt a few things about different styles of music they may have never heard before.

ALOUD: Sizzle is described as a “sizzling smogarsbord of sensory seduction”. Why do you think a performance should engage all of the senses?

CLAIRE: Generally, audiences have very high expectations in terms of how they want to be entertained. Furthermore, the last 10 years have seen a trend within government funding bodies towards cross-platform collaborations. It has always been an interest of ours to collaborate with different art forms and musicians and we find that that helps us grow as an ensemble.

ALOUD: What is the biggest challenge that groups like ENSEMBLE OFFSPRING face to thrive?

CLAIRE: Probably money which is at the core of everything. We do not have the audience to sell out big stadiums, nor should we with such a specialized art form so that is our challenge, growing our audience so we can justify the money we spend on presenting our concerts. It’s a constant balancing act.

ALOUD: And isn’t the challenge of growing your audience closely linked to the fact that contemporary classical music is still a relatively unknown or misunderstood art form? 

CLAIRE: It’s a really slow road to convince people that it’s really exciting and stimulating, and not something to be scared of. People used to say to me, “I just don’t know any contemporary music, I won’t understand it and I won’t have anything to compare it to.” It’s about the experience and how it makes you feel. It’s about the journey it takes you on. I think people can really enjoy it if they stop worrying about all the other stuff.

ALOUD: And what makes it all worth it?

CLAIRE: This feeling of changing the musical landscape of Australia very gradually, and changing how people perceive this music we specialize in. We are passionate about the music we present, we just want to do it, we want to do it more, grow our opportunities. As a percussionist, it’s also the fact that hardly anyone else is doing it so, as this is the music that I love playing then I have to make it happen. It’s as simple as that.

Ensemble Offspring’s next Sizzle performance will take place on Sunday 19th August, 3pm at Petersham bowling club. Have a look on the website for other upcoming shows.

Website: www.ensembleoffspring.com

If you are an artist or designer and have turned your passion into your livelihood, I would love to hear from you and help you get the word out there. Email me at contactaloud@gmail.com

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