Artists in iso: Claire Edwardes, Ensemble Offspring

The internationally acclaimed percussionist and Artistic Director of Ensemble Offspring says her intimate studio concerts presented over Zoom have generated both income and engagement.
Artists in iso: Claire Edwardes, Ensemble Offspring Claire Edwardes has been called a 'sorceress of percussion'. Photo credit: Jan Gates
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Richard Watts

Sunday 10 May, 2020

Claire Edwardes is an internationally acclaimed percussion soloist, chamber musician and the Artistic Director of Sydney-based new music group Ensemble Offspring. Edwardes is the only Australian musician to win the APRA Art Music Award for Excellence by an Individual three times (2007, 2012, 2016), is the recipient of an Australia Council and Freedman Fellowship and the winner of numerous European instrumental and percussion competitions (resident there for seven years) as well as 1999 Australian Young Performer of the Year.

She has forged a path as Australia’s leading percussion concerto soloist with regular engagements with all of the Australian orchestras, including recently the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall (2018), the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at the Myer Music Bowl (2017), and a national tour with the Australian String Quartet (2016).

Edwardes has been instrumental in leading, developing, and stimulating the art music scene in Australia.

How has COVID-19 affected your arts practice – your day to day playing, rehearsing and performing?

Ironically, I have actually had a lot more time to practise and just be with my instruments since COVID hit. Obviously there has been no public performing for me since early March and also no rehearsing with others, both of which I really miss, but as I am someone who can’t sit still I have managed to create many and various opportunities which give me a purpose to practise. This has honestly been what has kept me sane through a really tough period of funding announcements that didn’t go our way and cancellation of an entire 25th birthday season for Ensemble Offspring which took us years to plan and set up.

Were you personally impacted by cancellations/loss of income?

Yes absolutely – the new music scene is generally pretty quiet from December to February so March was when everything was hotting up. We had many festival appearances cancelled (Bowral Autumn Music Festival, Canberra International Music Festival) as well as tours (to Brewarrina, Noosa, Hobart, and many more) which affected my income. I was really looking forward to performing a duo in the MSO’s Metropolis series in April with the trumpet legend Haken Hardenburger. This was of course also cancelled due to COVID-19 so artistically that was really disappointing.

What about real-life changes – your home situation, wellness, frustrations? What are you doing differently and how are you coping?

I have two daughters who are nine and 11 so have been spending my days homeschooling, practising, doing lots of admin and Zoom meetings to work through solutions for my group in light of the recent OzCo results (sad face), applying for all the new funding initiatives being launched by every man and his dog – plus arranging new concert and commissioning initiatives to keep me stimulated artistically. It’s actually been pretty crazy busy but I tend to work best when I’m busy so I really can’t complain.

Have you found opportunities in the crisis?

Probably the thing that has garnered the most attention are my percussion studio concerts which I have been presenting via Zoom to a small audience of about 20. My aim was to create an intimate opportunity for audiences to interact with me and each other and it really seems to be working. I can hear them clapping and I chat to them between pieces and they can ask me questions. I also charge $50 a head which may seem a bit bolshy but actually people have reacted really well to supporting an artist directly in this way – what I have learnt in these times is that it pays just to ask.

What have you become obsessed with during lockdown?

During lockdown I have become completely obsessed with ‘runking' (my word for a combination of slow running and walking, as I’m still trying to get fit) down my local bike path at the Cooks River in the Inner West of Sydney. We have been blessed with beautiful weather in Sydney and it has really kept me going being able to get out every day and just move.

What is the first thing you want to do post-COVID?

Like many others all I want to do is be able to present a live and intimate ensemble concert with my beautiful colleagues and with real people in the room listening and appreciating. Then afterwards walk up really close to them and chat and touch and hug – basically do whatever takes us and not feel limited by restrictions on how we are meant to interact with each other physically. I am a very physical person (being a percussionist) and it really does get very cloying over time to have these physical limitations inflicted upon us.

Claire Edwardes and Ensemble Offspring can be seen performing as part of the Melbourne Digital Concert Hall series on Wednesday 27 May at 8.30pm (AEST). Visit Melbourne Digital Concert Hall for details.

More in this series:

Artists in iso: David McMicken and Tim Newth, Tracks Dance Company

Artists in iso: Tony Albert

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R FM, a program he has hosted since 2004.

Richard currently serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management, and is also a former Chair of Melbourne Fringe. The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, he has also served as President of the Green Room Awards Association and as a member of the Green Room's Independent Theatre panel. 

Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend in 2017. Most recently he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize for 2019.

Twitter: @richardthewatts