It’s third time lucky for Ensemble Offspring and its latest batch of high energy new works. Shivers on Speed was originally programmed for 2020, then bumped to July 2021, only to be cancelled again. Now this resilient bunch of thrill-seeking virtuosos present the first post-2021-lockdown show at the Sydney Opera House. Granted, it is to a small audience in the cosy and acoustically-underwhelming Utzon Room but, hey, it’s LIVE.
It is also very fine. Artistic director Claire Edwardes has assembled six works which deliver on the promise of a hot mess of premieres from around the world.
Benjamin Kopp begins with the oldest work on the program, Karen Tanaka’s Techno Etudes for piano solo, written in 2000. He jumps into the perpetuo moto like a stunt man onto a runaway train, taking the audience with him in a breathless, white-knuckle ride.
Two of the night’s world premieres are Ensemble Offspring commissions, and they’re both cracking works. The concept behind Nicole Murphy’s Click Farm is the rather chilling vision of internet bots mimicking human behaviour to the point that they become more characteristically human than real users. The sound is alarmingly seductive: the bots interweave and imitate and overlay in a compelling weave of idiomatic mutations. Murphy uses her palette of tone colours – piano, percussion, violin, cello, clarinets and flutes – with impressive dexterity.
Jack Symonds’ Memory for flute solo and ensemble (2019-20) is nothing if not ambitious, casting the players adrift on a sea of quarter-tones and polyrhythms. Lamorna Nightingale, playing piccolo, flute, bass and contrabass flute, knocks out the myriad technical challenges with cool clarity. She’s got this. So too does Jason Noble, playing seismic rumbles on the contrabass clarinet. Just hearing one note fray and split is fascinating. The whole thing is almost overwhelming. Indeed, this intense work demands much of the players and of the audience, but it is worth the effort. Again, please.
Ryan Walsh’s Simple Movements (in your own time) for cello solo (2021) is something of a palate cleanser, written for brilliant guest cellist Christopher Pidcock, made up of gradually unfolding chords from across the full range – timbral, dynamic and pitchwise — of the cello. Andrew Ford’s Hook for vibraphone solo (2019) – a (new) old favourite for Edwardes – is almost too much for the room.
Claire Edwardes sits out the last work on the program, Brigitta Muntendorf’s Shivers on Speed, joining the audience as the quintet bops through this punchy romp. Conductor Jack Symonds marshalls the chaos of runaway notes and extraneous noises into a tight groove.
Big smiles all round. Ensemble Offspring is back.