Tag Archives: Kaija Saariaho

Ensemble Offspring: Celebrating International Women’s Day

To celebrate International Women’s Day, Ensemble Offspring presented their Arc Electric program of works by women composers at the Melbourne Recital Centre. An all-woman program is not unusual for Ensemble Offspring because their entire year’s programming has been dedicated to music by women. As Ensemble Offspring’s Artistic Director Claire Edwardes explained, the challenge in putting the program together was deciding between the wealth of excellent contenders. Ensemble Offspring were in fine form, presenting some of their most scintillating performances yet.

Two works from very different traditions showed a sophisticated minimalist sensibility. Kate Moore’s Velvet takes folksy romanticism to new heights of sensuality while inflecting it with obsessive pulsation. Cello and piano intertwine in an insistent 5/8 rhythm. The cello, played with bravado by Blair Harris, reaches ever higher and louder in swelling espressivo lines. While Moore studied with Louis Andriessen in the Netherlands, Cassie To studied in Australia. Her Avialae weaves the calls of endangered bird species into a sweeping, pulsating texture.

From the overblown to the microscopic, Melody Eötvös’s Tardigrade conjures the microscopic realm of some of the world’s most divisive creatures. The tardigrade, also known as the “moss-piglet”, looks like an eight-legged vacuum bag and is almost invincible. They can survive in boiling water, ice, deserts, and the depths of the sea all thanks to their ability to change form to suit their conditions. Edwardes played bowls filled with rice to produce a texture of tiny particles, Lamorna Nightingale played flitting, darting lines on flute and piccolo. The grotesque appeal of the tardigrade was not lost on the composer, who treated the audience also to a series of wet munching sounds.

Liza Lim’s Turning Dance of the Bee consists of a daytime and a nocturnal tableau. During the day, bees perform the figure of eight “waggle dance” oriented towards the sun. At night the bees remain in the hive. Lim’s daytime tableau  is full of darting gestures and athletic rhythms, but the nocturnal tableau is truly magical. The solo flute line, performed with the utmost serenity by Nightingale, is transformed over a string drone into a graceful meditation before being joined by a sumptuous bass clarinet line.

Tatjana Kozlova-Johannes’ Horizontals is so-called for its focus on form and texture over vertical harmony. Sandpaper blocks, saucepans and chopsticks inserted between the piano strings provide groups of timbres. Zubin Kanga’s prepared piano was particularly effective with its muted, gong-like tones. True to the piece’s name, each timbre group is presented before moving on to the next and I found myself wanting to hear some of these sound groups superimposed in new combinations.

Possibly the most well-known living female composer, Kaija Saariaho would be hard to pass by in any celebration of contemporary art music by women. Her work Cendres (ashes) here received a sensitive performance. The sounds of breath and hair on strings conjured images of ash and dust like the cremated remains of the musical patriarchy raining down around us.

Ensemble Offspring
Celebrating International Women’s Day
Melbourne Recital Centre
8 March


Rubiks: Things are become new

Competing schedules, fickle venues, and piles of percussion gear: There are myriad difficulties involved in organising a contemporary music concert. It can feel like a puzzle, a riddle, or even a Rubik’s cube. This was the sentiment expressed by flautist Tamara Koehler at the beginning of the first self-organised concert by Rubiks, a group of ANAM graduates who have found time in their busy international careers to come together and perform contemporary repertoire. The organisational effort was well worth it. Six players thrilled the crowd at the Church of All Nations in Carlton—fast becoming the venue of choice for contemporary music in Melbourne—with a polished program of canonic and recent works. The theme of change and transformation underpinned the program and was expertly handled by the ensemble.

Cellist Gemma Tomlinson conjured the movement and colour of butterflies in Kaija Saariaho’s Sept papillons. Saariaho explores every possible butterfly-like gesture on the cello throughout seven miniatures. Fast trills between harmonics shimmer like iridescent wings and Tomlinson’s bow-arm seems to take flight, arcing across the strings in fast arpeggios. There are high, trilling harmonics; low, susurrating tremoli; glittering, rapid alternations between open strings and stopped notes, all in constant motion and gradated change. The performer is called upon to constantly change their bow-tone, moving from heavy, slow, gritty over-bowing to fast, light, floating bows. Tomlinson managed these transitions with astonishing precision and ease.

Samuel Smith’s Things are become new was written for Adelaide’s Soundstream collective and showcases the composer’s sensitivity to the relationship of instrumental tone colour and gesture. A medley of mallets and stick-ends thump and rattle away on the vibraphone, a trio of winds woof and huff, while the strings play swelling messe di voce. The piece is a study in transformation, requiring great commitment to bring out its kaleidoscope of techniques and timbres. Rubiks were more than up to the task, providing a spirited and dynamic rendition of the piece.

Anna Clyne’s Steelworks approaches the theme of transformation programmatically. The piece combines live performance with field recordings and interviews from the Flame Cut Steelworks, the last steelworks factory in Brooklyn. Justin Beere’s pneumatic bursts on the bass clarinet, as well as Kaylie Melville’s kick-drum and the clacking keys of the flute remind us that modern instruments are machines of the industrial revolution. The voices of steel-workers ride on top of this mechanical racket, debating the merits of change. Their voices are slowed and clipped, gestures that are affectingly imitated by the instrumentalists as the entire musical machine winds down.

An explosion of energy (definitely “with panache” as instructed by the composer) concluded the concert in the form of Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy’s Glamour Sleeper II. From the multicoloured butterflies of Saariaho’s Sept papillons to the dark bouquet of Smith’s Things are become new, the concert showcased Rubiks’ searingly-precise ensemble skills and instrumental control. Rubiks are a formidable contribution to Australia’s growing community of contemporary music makers.

Things are become new
Rubik’s Collective
Church of All Nations, Carlton
28 November 2015
Samuel Smith, Things are become new; Anna Clyne, Steelworks; Kaija Saariaho, Sept papillons; Marcus Fjellström, Odboy and Erordog Episodes 2 and 3; Donacha Dennehy, Glamour Sleeper II.