6 May 2017

Female offspring

The concert was called Half the sky and the half was women. It was a CIMF event formulated around Ensemble Offpring and some ring-ins. EO plays music only by living composers, but this year they are playing music only by living women composers. I expect little difference in the music (I liked how Chen Yi, female composer in residence at CIMF, put it: "we happen to be women writing music"), but a great opportunity to level matters. The concert was at and about the National Portrait Gallery, in various locations over several hours. First up was a performance in the foyer, by the sextet, then by a trio. Then a "promenade": four mini performances by soloists or small groups. Then a choice (not an easy thing!) amongst four pieces in four places at one time. I happened on two by settled on third, Loo Sze-Wang playing sheng, a smallish, multi-piped free reed instrument, just to experience something different (not new: shengs date from 1,100 years back). Then the forum, about women composers and more broadly about women in music, with Chen Yi, Claire Edwardes, Sarah Kimball (CSO), Sally Greenaway and Laura Tingle, chaired by Karen Vickery (NPG) and a final two pieces performed in the foyer, one by the current composer-in-residence, Chen Yi; the other by next year's c-i-r, Mary Finsterer. What stands out? Firstly, it was all fabulously interesting, challenging, edgy, read contemporary. The playing was mightly, but as a string player I particularly noticed Blair Harris on cello and was fascinated by the score he was responding to with all manner of new written techniques; Claire E's deeply satisfying rhythm and the pentatonics in her later solo on merimba had me feeling jazz, although another later work was more obviously classical-sounding; an impressive trio including some blissful playing on horn from Darryl Poulson; Loo Sze-Wang's cheng because it was just so new to me. And some interesting comments in the forum caught my ear: what did we miss about Julia Gillard's time amongst "all that noise"; CSO's programming of 9 women with 6 commissions in a smaller group series curated by Matthew Hindson; Sally G observed that being a composer is "fraught", also that she'd come to love music by female composers she'd met (I guess she means some familiarity helps in music and otherwise: I feel that too); Chen Yi observed that action is most important (she spoke of the SF Women's Philharmonic and a competition for female composers); Claire's suggestion that women may not be "as bolshy" as male composers, calling on others to "listen to me"; it was generally recognised that history has left a male bias to the repertoire (not hard to think this!) and a "repair [is] all we can do now". A great afternoon of intriguing contemporary music played with wonderful skills and with a political edge. Great!

Half the sky was a CIMF concert at the National Portrait Gallery. Performers were Ensemble Offspring comprising Claire Edwardes (percussion, musical director), Jason Noble (clarinet), Zubin Kanga (piano), Veronique Serret (violin), Lamorna Nightingale (flute), Blair Harris (cello) with Ben Hoadley (bass clarinet, bassoon), Loo Swe-Wang (sheng) and Darryl Poulson (horn). The forum comprised Chen Yi, Claire Edwardes, Sarah Kimball, Sally Greenaway, Laura Tingle and Karen Vickery. Composers on location were Chen Yi, Joyce Tang and Mary Finsterer (perhaps others).

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