Gaudeamus Muziekweek: a highlight of the tour

Zubin Kanga, Ensemble Offspring’s pianist, shares an insight into the ensemble’s experience at Gaudeamus Muziekweek Festival.

The middle week of our tour brought us to Gaudeamus Muziekweek in Utrecht, right in the centre of the Netherlands. Now several decades old, the festival features performers from around the world and has a focus around pioneering young composers, with 5 young composers vying for a final prize, with their works featured by all of the visiting ensembles.

As a preview to our Gaudeamus performances, we performed at Splendor in Amsterdam. A venue owned and developed by a community of musicians, this is an intimate and flexible space in the heart of the city, and we were all keen to see it and discuss whether a similar venue could be created in Australia. We performed a selection of works to be featured at Gaudeamus, as well as Annie Gosfield’s crunchy and vibrant Cranks and Cactus Needles. Two Dutch-based composers, Australian Kate Moore and American Ned McGowan joined Claire and host David Dramm on stage for a discussion of their new works – the ensemble played with different approaches to phrasing and silence in Kate’s work, Blackbird Song, and Ned McGowan’s use of pulsing wrist-watch metronomes worn by the musicians, all at different tempi, was discussed and debated, with the musicians all in agreement that it was a new challenge for us, but a very rewarding musical result.

The first of our two festival concerts (the second is covered in Jason’s blog) was at the Hertz Hall in Utrecht’s shiny new venue complex, the Tivoli Vrendenberg. It featured one of the young composers in the competition – Nicholas Morrish, a dashing young composer from the UK. Morrish’s piece Life of Lines II was a wonderfully colourful and delicately crafted work. Prepared piano and e-bow sounds combined with resonant metallic percussion and breathy, fluttery sounds from the other instruments. The rest of the programme was made up of new and recent commissions, including two of Kate Moore’s works, McGowan’s Sydney Polypulse, finishing with Holly Harrison’s funky and energetic Bend Boogie Break.

One of the great perks of playing at a festival like this is attending the other concerts on offer, and there was a huge range to choose from, including on the Saturday night a mini-festival where every venue in the Tivoli was full of a series of performances. Highlights included Nadar Ensemble’s cutting-edge performances of innovative and wacky works, from video-game influenced works, to Doctor Who-style contraptions, to precise choreography with film; Vicky Chow and Stefan Maier’s immersive duo work for piano and modular synth; and Ensemble Klang’s ecstatic performance of an Ensemble Offspring-favourite: Hoketus. With a number of musicians in the ensemble who’d performed the piece for four decades, they made this notoriously challenging work sound joyously effortless.

An extraordinary experience for all of us to be part one of the world’s great contemporary music festivals – a highlight of the tour!

See the Solitude page for the full European schedule.