Inspirational mentoring scheme sees triumphant fledglings leave the nest.

Sydney Conservatorium
October 30, 2014

The marketing material is all fluffy chicks and comfy nests, but don’t be fooled. Intrepid new music group Ensemble Offspring may be in the nurturing business but the fledglings in this, the first of an on-going mentoring scheme, appropriately monikered ‘Hatched’, are seriously talented youngsters. In this case the pair of musicians were Sydney-based composer and jazz saxophonist Jeremy Rose and Melbourne-based trumpeter Callum G’Froerer whose oeuvre apparently defies description. Artistic directors Damien Ricketson and Claire Edwardes have taken them under their capable wings for some in-depth tutoring, and this concert was the impressive fruit of their labours.

The opening perhaps was not entirely prepossessing. QUITT, derived from a colour drawing made in 1989 by Karlheinz Stockhausen, was not an easy piece to play and still more difficult to listen to. Starting from a unison held note, flute (the excellent Lamorna Nightingale), clarinet (equally inspiring Jason Noble) and trumpet (Callum G’Froerer) ascend microtonally to a high-pitched cacophony. It reminded me of rival birds in some kind of musical meeting game. The trumpet then loses its nerve and takes a hike into a corner of the stage where it apparently sulks for the remaining few minutes playing two notes in a desultory fashion. Not exactly a feelgood opener.

Things looked up with Tinderbox, a world premiere by Dutch-born composer Cor Fuhler. Although possessing a similarly improvisatory element to the Stockhausen, Fuhler’s work had more colour, interest and variety, despite its tempo being essentially meditative. Ululating trumpet and flute plus bowed vibraphone over moody sax (Jeremy Rose) created a brief but haunting aural landscape.

Rose’s own composition Rites was next, an immediately appealing duo for trumpet and assorted percussion – cowbells were readily identifiable. It had a lovely bluesy feel with a melancholy that entered the soul and was expertly dispatched by G’Froerer and Claire Edwardes.

Matthias Pintscher’s Shining Forth for solo trumpet was the intense sequel, with music ranging from the barely audible to the intensely loud and back again. It pushes the player to the limits of the instrument’s capabilities – both as musical conduit and as simple set of air-bearing tubes. Deceptively random sounding, it is, we were told, far more notationally dictated than one might think. G’Froerer exhibited a terrific tone (as he did throughout the evening) alongside a formidable technique. Apparently a response to a piece of visual art, unfortunately divorced from such imagery Shining Forth becomes a technical exercise with unclear musical purpose.

Amanda Cole’s Objectified for solo prepared marimba – yes, you can prepare a marimba! – and cowbells came next. With its minimalist ethic, and despite its alleged focus on the microtonal, the work was instantly appealing. The buzzing marimba (the result of rubber banding clips to some of the bars) was remarkably funky with cowbells lending it more than a hint of gamelan. With Edwardes as charismatic performer it was highly watchable as well.

The other work by Col Fuhler, Empty Gizzards, used the same forces and techniques as Tinderbox while going to the opposite extreme with wild outbursts and instruments pushed to the limits. I found it far less successful however, and at times the volume was painful on the ear. It was mercifully short.

Border Control by Jeremy Rose was the finale – a response to current government policy – a situation that clearly depresses, enrages and shames a great many Australian artists today. Intriguingly the work can also be read as about perceived borders surrounding genres and how we as audience react to those. It was an attractive work, possessing the jazzy appeal of composers like Michael Torke or Graham Fitkin, to name an American and a Brit. Fusing a laid back style on vibraphone and sax with more spiky, pentatonic music on trumpet and flute it was effective and conveyed a sense of East meets West – or in this case, East would like to seek refuge with West if only West wasn’t in the hands of Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison. The central slow movement featured hypnotic gamelan sounds on vibes and a smoky trumpet. The upbeat, heavily syncopated finale was foot-tappingly satisfying while retaining those Balinese overtones.

Hits and misses, then, but always thought-provoking and never dull. With world premieres, Australian premieres, commissions and opportunities for a new generation of contemporary music practitioner, this felt genuinely important. For young musicians interested in this inspirational mentoring scheme, the date for applications to be part of next year’s scheme is November 24.