Percussionist Claire Edwardes Keeps her Beat in Iso
From presenting digital studio concerts, to performing on Melbourne Digital Concert Hall, percussionist Claire Edwardes has been keeping her beat.
Claire Edwardes is an internationally acclaimed Australian percussion soloist, chamber musician and artistic director of Ensemble Offspring.
Ensemble Offspring are a collective of virtuosic instrumentalists who champion works by living composers and music of our time.
The ensemble have announced their mentorship program will shift to an online format for 2020, with a home commission opportunity.
The Creative Issue spoke to Claire about her experiences as a digital musician during iso, and plans for reemerging.
The Creative Issue: What was experience like for you presenting your COVID Studio Concerts via Zoom? Would you recommend this platform to other artists during this time?
Claire Edwardes: Yes, I would absolutely recommend the platform of Zoom for an intimate concert presentation. The biggest issue is the compromise on sound quality, but settings can be played with in Zoom. I found that with a good microphone, I was able to get a reasonable sound quality. Generally speaking, the feedback from my audience was really positive all round. The hardest part of streaming to a live audience is not being able to swap places with them and check how your performance is sounding/coming across. So, it is always a bit nerve-wrecking. Not least because internet speeds are so varied across the country and this is definitely something that I cannot control!
For my Zoom shows I capped the numbers at 20 to keep the experience intimate. I was able to say a personal hi to everyone on their little screen at the start of the show and throughout I encouraged people to ask questions and clap after pieces. I had composers present in the Zoom concert for their world premieres at several of my shows. That was hugely successful also as it is pretty unusual that an audience member can sit side by side with a composer in a concert and ask them any question they would like. That was a pretty special experience for me and the audience as well as the composers too, I think!
TCI: You performed with Ensemble Offspring on Melbourne Digital Concert Hall last week. How does this experience compare to a live show?
CE: Yes. Ensemble Offspring performed last week as part of the Sydney Satellite of MDCH. It really was a joy and an honour to be involved in such a successful classical music digital series. We had 156 audience members which we were really happy with. It meant that all three of us were able to receive a reasonable fee from the concert too, which is part of the main point of MDCH. The audio and visual quality for MDCH is very high and because there is a small crew in the room with you, as a performer it is really nice to have faith that all of the technical side is taken care of.
For me personally, the absence of clapping at the end is a bit disconcerting. I do wonder whether now with limitations being slightly lifted, they could experiment with a small audience at some of the shows. I know from a performer’s perspective it would certainly be very nice to have that real life warmth in the room and some live clapping.
TCI: Ensemble Offspring have just announced their Hatched Home Academy and Hatched Home Commission for 2020. Can you tell us more about this initiative?
CE: We created Hatched Home Academy and the Home Commission on the back of COVID-19 shutdowns, which also affected our 2020 Hatched Academy programs. Our Associate Artist Will Hansen (double bass) had to postpone his residency to 2021 because with all our cancellations he had very few opportunities. So, this was our way of giving back to other tertiary students and emerging artists who might be after a mini-mentorship with one of our members. Or, if they need an outside injection of creativity with all of the mayhem with uni classes and schedule changes.
Hatched Home Academy gives the incentive of a $2000 commission and the offer of Ensemble Offspring workshopping and premiering the new work of the winning composer. We are looking for a simple project, which is original, creative and inspiring for us to perform or document. It doesn’t have to be digital but it can be – it doesn’t have to be rolled out during COVID restrictions but it can be. We are very open and we urge everyone who considers themselves emerging, to apply!
TCI: What other creative projects have sprung up for you in isolation?
CE: I received a small Create NSW grant to produce videos of Australian repertoire works for marimba which were written for me. This is for Vic Firth, a USA percussion maker who produced my signature “Claire Edwardes” mallets. They have a very popular website where they feature core works of the percussion repertoire. So this will be a great chance to get exposure for myself and these Australian composers on an international platform!
The ABC Freshstart grants have also been a place of inspiration in terms of creating new projects with composers for the future which may or may not eventuate. And likewise I also just put in an application to the Australia Council to produce an Australian Marimba Composition Kit. That will be a very competitive round, but I realised that nothing of its kind exists in the world. I feel that its probably something I will do soon anyway, just to help composers understand how to write better for the weird and wonderful instrument I specialise in, the marimba.
TCI: What do you enjoy in collaborating with artists like Karin Schaupp and Bernadette Harvey and in cross art-form projects with dancer Richard Cilli?
CE: For me collaborations are extremely important. I love performing solo, but it is my Ensemble Offspring colleagues as well as my duo collaborators who really get my creative juices flowing. In a way that has been the toughest part of COVID-19 — having many of those concerts cancelled. Performing with the dancer Richard Cilli last year was truly transformational. I find cross art form collaborations the most enriching because they tend to really push me right out of my artistic comfort zone. I am absolutely at the point in my career now where I need that and to a certain extent thrive on it too.
TCI: As a percussionist, what is it like to be a solo performer?
CE: It can be lonely as a solo percussionist because it involves quite a bit of what we call lugging (moving instruments around). When you are a soloist, you tend to be doing a lot of this alone. I am a very social person, so in that sense chamber music is probably more my thing. There is also something very satisfying about perfecting a solo work for marimba or vibraphone or multi percussion and presenting audiences with something they generally have never heard before. It’s a pretty privileged position I am in to be able to perform solo and chamber music.
TCI: You have a focus on new music, commissions, premieres and music of our time. What drew you to these works?
CE: It’s pretty simple really — my instrument is relatively speaking a very new instrument. So for me, rather than getting stuck in ‘transcription land’, it was really important to keep developing the repertoire. I work with living composers to create pieces which both challenge me but also provide repertoire for other percussionists.
TCI: After the disruption of COVID-19, what are your plans for getting back on stage with Ensemble Offspring?
CE: I think we all will just have to see how the venues start to open up. We are all desperate to be playing to a live audience again. One thing COVID has taught me is that it doesn’t pay to be impatient. That has been the big blessing during this time. A sense of having more time and not rushing back to how things used to be. I think many people feel the same way. There are a lot of lessons to take away from this period. We are all happy to take it slow and make sure that whatever we go back to is both environmentally sustainable but also informed by our experiences in 2020. The next few years will be an interesting time I think.
What: Ensemble Offspring’s Hatched Home Academy
When: 15x 1hr mentorship sessions on Zoom, 29 June – 31 July 2020
Who: Young composers/ musicians, Australia wide (over 18)
Applications close: MIDNIGHT Friday 12 June, advised by 26 June
What: Ensemble Offspring’s Hatched Home Commission: $2000 for young composer to workshop and premiere new work with ensemble in 2021
Who: Artists of any age, must consider themselves emerging
Applications close: MIDNIGHT Friday 12 June, advised by 26 June
More info/ to apply here.