13 March 2023

Amazing sounds on way as master percussionist combines with CSO

| Ian Bushnell
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woman and gong

Percussionist Claire Edwardes promises an exciting performance with the CSO. Photo: Nat Cartney.

Be prepared to be challenged this month at the Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s first concert of the year.

Australian percussion dynamo Claire Edwardes will be literally banging the drum – and an array of other instruments – for a piece of music dear to her heart.

Dances with Devils is a four-movement percussion concerto written for and with her by Australian composer Iain Grandage, based on four 19th-century colonial Gothic tales with women at their centre, including Henry Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife.

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Edwardes likes to live on the creative edge and challenge people’s preconceptions of classical music.

She says Dances with Devils will do that with its different and distinctive soundscapes reminiscent of movie scores but also providing enough of the familiar to intrigue the listener.

“Iain paces music really well and it will be really fun and exciting but also touching because each movement has a different story,” Edwardes says.

With two percussion set-ups on either side of the stage, she promises a visually dramatic and spectacular performance.

On one side will be the marimba, combining with a range of drums, temple blocks and the tambourine, as well as Edwardes’ birdcage-shaped waterphone, an instrument often used in film scores to provide those eerie sounds, which she will walk to the other side for one of the middle movements.

There we will find crotales or antique cymbals, combined with tubular bells.

Man with baton

Guest conductor Dane Lam will be in charge of the CSO’s percussion concerto ”barnstormer”. Photo: Glenn Hunt.

The orchestra will also be doing things differently, with the strings players bowing wine glasses to contribute to a sometimes spooky soundscape reflecting the darker themes of the stories.

But the concerto ends on an upbeat note with a tarantella inspired by Lola Montez’s notorious Spider Dance on the Victorian goldfields.

“Iain wanted to write me a piece that suited me and that I would get a lot out of as a performer, as well as the orchestra and audience,” says Edwardes, whose performances are marked by a lot of movement.

“I like to think of myself as a performer who embodies the music and communicates to the audience how they should hear the music.”

Edwardes loves the fact that percussion allows her to take risks and explore and create new sounds to build a new repertoire.

She will join the CSO under the baton of guest conductor Dane Lam for Fire & Shadow on 22-23 March at Llewellyn Hall, in a concert inspired by colour.

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Chief conductor and artistic director Jessica Cottis said the program “explores the interplay of musical darkness and light” from Stravinsky’s “colourful and adventurous” Fairy’s Kiss to Beethoven’s sunlit Creatures of Prometheus – “an image of the divine fire of the arts”.

Music director designate of the Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra and principal conductor and artistic director of China’s Xi’an Symphony Orchestra, Lam said he would relish delving into one of Beethoven’s lesser-known masterworks.

“I’m particularly excited to collaborate with Claire Edwardes on this barnstormer of a percussion concerto,” he said.

To learn more, visit the CSO website.

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