18 December 2018
Ecstatic Edwards - perfomers' choice
© Bridget Elliot
To congratulate one of our best-loved and most-performed composers, Ross Edwards, on the eve of his 75th birthday, we asked Australian musicians to talk about their favourite Edwards works.
Their answers are revealing and give us an idea of just why this music is so loved by its performers as well as its audience: on one hand there is the infectious joy of a musician becoming one with the music in an energetic, powerful dance - and on the other, there is the unique fulfilment that comes from transcending the technical and musical challenges of an Edwards score - so that, in the words of violist Stephen King, '...the performers disappear and only purity is left'.
'Love duet' from Concerto for oboe and orchestra Bird Spirit Dreaming (2012)
I will choose the 'love duet' section of Bird Spirit Dreaming, the oboe concerto. This love duet is a dream to play, a dialogue between oboe and cor anglais, made up of expressive overlapping arcs, and a tenderness and intimacy that almost makes you blush! It is a huge honour that it was written for me to play with my partner, Alexandre Oguey.
Diana Doherty, oboist
> AMC resources about Concerto for oboe and orchestra: score & parts,audio and score samples; digital album (via iTunes)
Chorale and Ecstatic Dance (aka Enyato I, 1993) for string quartet
Gallipoli (2013) for string quartet
One of the first pieces I performed by Ross was the premiere of Enyato I for string quartet at the Aspen Music Festival with the Coolidge Quartet in the 1990s. The second movement became very popular and a common encore for us, the buoyant joyous rolling together of 3/4 and 6/8, burst with happy memories of Australia. It exists in many versions of Ecstatic Dances.
In 2014 Ross wrote a very special work called Gallipoli for premiere, by the Australian String Quartet, during the ANZAC centenary the following year. For me this is one of his most meaningful works, drawing together his deep spiritual understanding of the world and its inhabitants. Performing this requires an immense amount of physical control so the performers disappear and only purity is left. The work is so calmly paced and searchingly evocative as it inevitably unfolds and refolds in an achingly beautiful, profoundly human journey.
Stephen King, violist, Australian String Quartet
> AMC resources about Chorale and Ecstatic Dance: score & parts, audio and score sample
> AMC resources about Gallipoli: score & parts, score sample
Ecstatic Dances (1990) for two flutes
I've been very fortunate to have been associated with Ross's music for such a long time - going way back to the 1970s. So when I think back over that, I guess I have to mention what is now a pretty well-known piece - Ecstatic Dances for 2 flutes (from the Spinning CD). This piece started out way back in 1978 as a small 50th birthday tribute for Peter Sculthorpe for a special concert marking the occasion. I was part of that event. Fast-forward to its current form: Ross created the full version of the piece for the recording and it was quite a challenge to record both parts! Since then, it has taken on a life of its own, having been transcribed for many other instruments and combinations. It was particularly satisfying recently to hear two of my students performing it live - seeing works that you have some association with taking flight and having their own life.
The other most striking memory that immediately comes to mind is recording Ross's Symphony (No. 4) Star Chant with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. This just showed me a completely different side to his music after having been involved with so much of his chamber and solo music over the years.
Geoff Collins, flutist
> AMC resources about Ecstatic Dances in its many forms: eScores, scores, digital audio, CDs and audio and score samples
Ecstatic Dances (1990) for two flutes
I love the way this work combines lyricism and rhythmic energy. I have played it with many advanced students. It's always a challenge for them but they have all ended up loving the piece. I also love that it is part of the flute duet repertoire, stretching back to before Telemann. In fact, there is something about Ecstatic Dances which reminds me of Telemann. Thanks Ross, for not thinking that a flute duet is too daggy to write!
Christine Draeger, composer and flutist
> AMC resources about Ecstatic Dances: eScores, scores, digital audio, CDs and audio and score samples
Anna Grinberg and I love playing A Flight of Sunbirds. These nine deceptively difficult bagatelles for piano four hands come from the tradition of childhood duet playing, but are a bit similar to Schumann's Kinderszenen in that the emotional world is poignant in a way that resonates very much with adults. There's such a variety of musical allusion too - playful Maninya-style dances, a gamelan-inspired piece, references to ocarinas and mbiras, and a tyrolienne. There's a directness of expression within a simplicity of texture that somehow still conveys complex musical thinking, which is where the challenge and joy comes from when learning and performing these little gems. We recorded A Flight of Sunbirds for ABC Classics in 2016, but we think we will return to them and record them again one day, because we already hear and feel them differently than we did two years ago.
Liam Viney, pianist, Viney-Grinberg Piano Duo
> AMC resources about A Flight of Sunbirds - CD, score, score & audio samples
I am so pleased to have been involved in the creation of Full Moon Dances, which is one of the most well-written and technically challenging pieces of the saxophone repertoire. Working with Ross was, as ever, inspiring, and it was a time that I will always remember fondly. Happy birthday dear Ross!
Amy Dixon, saxophonist
Maninya I (1981) for voice and cello
I'll never tire of playing Maninya I (1981). The second movement is an exhilaratingly virtuosic ride for both performers. This is the essential Edwards sound, all built on his own made-up word.
Geoffrey Gartner, cellist
> AMC resources about Maninya I: CD, score, score and audio samples
Maninya I (1981) for voice and cello
Maninya I is probably the most-performed piece in my repertoire and one I keep returning to for a number for reasons. Firstly it has two substantial contrasting sections - one luminous and transcendent, the second an energetic dance. These two elements are so intrinsic to Ross's writing that it makes a very good introduction to his music. But, more importantly, it is so much fun to perform, with voice and cello very much equal partners in the duo. Written originally for counter-tenor, but well-suited for mezzo, it lets me explore the lower timbres of my voice, and the vocal lines often interplay with the cello in the same register. Even more interestingly, instead of a chosen text, it uses a series of syllables he selected to form its own 'language'. The shapes and colours of these created 'words' become mine to interpret, bring to life and communicate. And somehow they just make sense.
When I first learned Ross's The Hermit of Green Light (1979), a wonderful song cycle on poems by Michael Dransfield, I was taken by his sensitive response to the poetic contours and ideas. Though he continued to write choral and symphonic works involving multiple voices, apart from his vocal Maninyas (which I had also performed), he did not write any more solo songs for just over three decades. The song cycle Five Senses was written after many years of conversation and encouragement to create more songs at a different era of his compositional life. The poetry of Judith Wright became the medium and Five Senses the result. A celebration of nature, it's a truly beautiful cycle full of, at turns, mystery, joy, fragility and exuberance. Each song is an individual gem, carefully shaped by both the poet's vision and Ross's own deep affinity with her words.
Jenny Duck-Chong, mezzo-soprano & artistic director, Halcyon
> AMC resources about Maninya I: CD, score, score and audio samples
> AMC resources about Five senses: eScore, score, score and audio samples
'Madagascan Song' from Laikan (1979)
I find performing both Marimba Dances and More Marimba Dances very challenging yet satisfying due to Ross's dance-like feel and his use of the extreme registers of the instrument. Accuracy is always tricky in these works, but once the technical aspects are honed, the performer can really get their teeth into the musical and rhythmic nuances - and there is so much there to give back to both the performer and the audience. This is where Ross's music is so brilliant - his maninya style is very light-hearted in feel, but to really perfect these light twists and turns the performer needs to have total control of the difference in weight of every single note - there is so much detail, which is why it is so satisfying to perform. More Marimba Dances was written for me reasonably early on in my career - it felt like a real coup to have the amazing and very famous Ross Edwards writing me a 2nd instalment of marimba dances, in the footsteps of the remarkable percussionist Michael Askill.
'Madagascan Song' is the final movement of Ross's quintet Laikan - I have performed it many times with the Australia Ensemble as well as my own group Ensemble Offspring. Using a similar style to the first movement of Marimba Dances, 'Madagascan Song' is equally challenging to perform precisely. It is such happy music, and when I play it I feel buoyant somehow - like the dance of the music comes out in my own dance behind the marimba. The intricate way in which the marimba part intertwines with the four other instrumental parts is also extremely satisfying in a chamber music sense. Although a marimba features it is still very much true chamber music!
Claire Edwardes, percussionist & artistic director, Ensemble Offspring
> AMC resources about Marimba Dances: score, CD, digital audio, score and audio samples
> AMC resources about More Marimba Dances: score, CD, digital audio, score and audio samples
> AMC resources about Laikan: score, CD, digital audio, score and audio samples
Piano Sonata (2011)
The piece that comes to mind is the Piano Sonata, and the fact that it was written with me in mind is the first thing I'd mention. I sent Ross my CD on which I'd recorded Etymalong and he answered by proposing the Sonata for me. It came out of the blue, and every time I go to play it I think about how lucky I am to have my name associated with it and Ross. Aside from this, the Sonata has power, depth and virtuosity, three elements which are attractive for the performer. So far, three of my students have learned the whole piece and one student has been quite successful in competitions with the sonata in her repertoire.
Bernadette Harvey, pianist
> AMC resources about Piano Sonata: score, CDs, audio and score samples
Prelude & Laughing Rock (2003) for solo cello
'Prelude' of slow, poetic, improvisatory kind, complemented by 'Laughing Rock' of concise, energetic, cheerful and relentless disposition. A perfect pair... well worth the effort of advanced players.
David Pereira, cellist
> AMC resources about Prelude & Laughing Rock: eScore, score, digital audio, CD, score and audio samples
Nura (2004) for flute and piano
I love performing this piece and am excited to have my recording of it recently released on ABC Classics Incantations album featuring chamber music of Ross Edwards. I've also been privileged to play it to Ross himself on a couple occasions. Nura is so lovely to play on the flute and evokes such colourful Australian images in Ross's distinctive musical style - wide expanses of rolling oceans, the cacophony of early morning Australian birdlife and the carefree exuberance of dancing! A must play piece for all flautists, and a great piece to listen to!
Melissa Doecke, flutist
> AMC resources about Nura: CDs, sheet music, score and audio samples
Southern Cross Chants (2004) for 6 or more voices
Sacred Kingfisher Psalms (2009) for mixed choir
Inevitably I first thought of
Southern Cross Chants, because we [The Song Company]
performed it so often. The work really kicked into life once we
added William Barton's didjeridu to it. The generally sparse
vocal writing worked so well on a bed of didjeridu. But
essentially the musical material for that work came out of the
Symphony [no. 4], and we always wanted a completely original
work. That came along in 2012 as Sacred Kingfisher
Sacred Kingfisher Psalms was co-commissioned between Canberra International Music Festival, Edinburgh International Festival Society and Ars Nova Copenhagen. Ars Nova did the premiere in Edinburgh with 12 singers, and The Song Company sang the premiere in Australia, with the usual six. The work is vintage Edwards: vocal virtuosity that requires consummate vocal virtuosi to do it justice. Ross has a knack of writing music that requires utter perfection in order to sound good. In that sense he is a little bit like Mozart or Stravinsky. Their music does not tolerate mediocrity either. In Ross's music there never is anywhere or anything to hide, and much rehearsal time is needed to make everything fall into place naturally and gracefully. I still remember how petrified we were in the first rehearsal with Ross attending! But I love the work for obvious and not so obvious reasons. Structurally, it is one of Ross's most perfect creations. The three movements combine momentum and rhythmic grit with moments of sheer ecstasy in equal balance. But the truly miraculous aspect of the work cannot be glanced from its score. Kingfisher Psalms exploits both the purity of Latin vowels and the laconic dirt of the Indigenous words. Therefore, it requires humans, preferably of the Australian variety, to become music at all, music in all its quirky messy totality.
I also remember Ross's Flower songs which uses the Latin scientific names of flowers. A bit of a classic, and I am still a little bit proud of our CD recording from 1993.
Roland Peelman, conductor & artistic director
Yarrageh - nocturne for solo percussion and orchestra (1989)
Flower Songs (1986) for 16 voices (SATB) and 2 percussionists
My encounter with Ross's music began with a pretty intensive musicological study, in the 1990s, which resulted in a master's degree. I was really taken with two pieces from this time: Flower Songs (1986) and Yarrageh (1989) - both on the opposite ends of Ross's contrasting composition spectrum. Yarrageh is a nocturne for percussion and orchestra and is one of his quiet, still pieces reflecting the sounds, silences and rhythmic quirks of the Eastern Australian seaboard. In the context of some of the brash, overtly virtuosic percussion concertos of recent times, this one stands out in its introspection and beautiful integration of the soloist within an understated orchestral palette.
Flower Songs is a wonderful pair of musical tableaux for choir and percussion. I completed a study of its rhythmic vocabulary in my master's degree and have been fortunate to conduct the piece twice with the Sydney Chamber Choir - most recently in a birthday tribute to Ross this year in the City Recital Hall (it hasn't got any easier over the years!). The piece is a remarkable work which limits one element in order to produce an individual creative statement: the first movement is based on a single pentatonic chord with only some slight inflections for contrast. Rhythmic and textual complexity is instead explored with the 16-part choir chanting highly charged repeated cells, organised into additive and subtractive groups. It's one of the most challenging choral works I've conducted, but also one of the most fun to perform as all the performers must embody the rhythms and also inhabit a zone of zen-like concentration to pull it off. This is a mere sample of the many delights of Ross's unique compositional output - there are many more I could have chosen. Happy birthday Ross!
Paul Stanhope, composer & conductor
> AMC resources about Flower Songs (CDs, digital audio, sheet music, score and audio samples)
So many favourites! Playing in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra with Dene Olding as soloist in the Violin Concerto is still up there for me as a career highlight. Then I've loved playing his chamber music - wind quintet Maninya [III , now known as Incantations], Ecstatic Dances for flute duet and, more recently, Nura for flute and piano. We are very lucky to have such wonderful Australian music to play.
Lamorna Nightingale, flutist
More AMC resources
Ross Edwards - AMC profile
AMC Shop: commercial CDs with Edwards's music
AMC Shop: digital audio of Edwards's music
AMC Shop: 'Dance with Nature - the chamber music of Ross Edwards' - a music resource kit for secondary and tertiary level study
AMC Shop: 'White ghost dancing - orchestral music by Ross Edwards' - a music resource kit
© Australian Music Centre (2018) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
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