With three exciting partnerships, three world premieres and the opportunity to showcase Australian work on an international stage, our Hong Kong Artistree Tour was a wonderful experience in artistic and cultural exchange. Claire Edwardes, Lamorna Nightingale and Jason Noble share their personal write-ups below.

Day one – by JASON

It has been seven years since EO last set foot in Hong Kong, and I remember vividly the steamy conditions playing some of Damien Ricketson’s music in one particular gig, where my fingers were literally skimming off the keys.

So it was refreshing to step off the plane and feel the cool air on arrival. The entourage this time was Claire, Lamorna and myself, and we were looking forward to catching up and performing with old friend and concertmaster of the HK Sinfonietta, James Cuddeford. Less refreshing perhaps was Lamorna’s reaction to the food on the plane, probably no need to elaborate on that one.

We are staying in Quarry Bay, HK Island, and the next morning we are straight into it, heading to an early morning rehearsal in Kowloon with members of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta. Thankfully our host, Icy, is there to escort us in taxis from each venue, as I think we are probably running on auto pilot. We rehearse on the 11th floor of an industrial building in Kowloon, in what seems like the middle of nowhere, definitely staying together to avoid getting lost. The first morning it is meeting the local players and beginning work on the Andriessen and our new commission, Action Music 2, by EriK Griswold.

After lunch we head to Hong Kong University to give a workshop to some of the composition students. Great to catch up with Hing-Yan Chan, whom we met at the Canberra International Music Festival the previous year. After performing some of our repertoire, we sight read the students works and give them our thoughts on their compositions, something we have done a lot of recently. The two and a half hours goes very quickly, and there is even a minor scuffle when we give the students a look at EO’s CD output.

Walking the streets of Quarry Bay for dinner was not so successful, and we end up settling for Taiwanese dumplings, too tired to go hunting for anything substantial. We all were looking forward to sleep back at the hotel.

Connecting with the local culture – by LAMORNA

Sometimes when we travel we are so busy seeing the important sites and getting from one place to another that we don’t get much time to really connect with the culture of the country we are visiting. This trip to Hong Kong has been different, even though we have only been here for a week it feels like we have had the opportunity to really get to know some fantastic people.

This started when we were met at hotel check in by the Hong Kong Sinfonietta’s Programme Officer, Icy Yau. From there on, Icy was always there when we needed her, even waiting on the street outside the rehearsal studio every morning for our taxi to arrive. She was so generous and helpful and made our touring lives so much easier.

Then there was Charles Kwong, who composed a beautiful new work for us called ‘of no shore’. It was fantastic because he was able to be at all the rehearsals for his piece and we were able to work together to shape it. He was also in direct contact with the other composer writing for this program, Seth Cluett, who wasn’t able to be in Hong Kong. Interestingly, both these works were very delicately coloured and left plenty of space for the musicians to leave their own personal imprint – really enjoyable for us to play!

The next group of people we met were the Hong Kong Sinfonietta players who joined us for our performances. We of course loved playing with James Cuddeford again. He is now the concert master of the HKS but in the good old days when he lived in Bondi he used to play with us! We were joined by his wife Musami, who is principal bass with the orchestra and 6 other fabulous players who were more than happy to play Claire’s toy instruments, improvise and make kooky sounds – lots of fun!

Ensemble Offspring have done quite a lot of student composition workshops recently, so it was good to do another one here. It’s certainly a great opportunity to talk and share experiences with young musicians and to get a sense of what the future may hold!

We met another group of passionate young musicians through William Lane and the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble. They were involved in the MODERN ACADEMY CREATIVE PROJECTS WORKSHOP. Claire presented two sessions on curation and project management and in the final session the groups presented their project proposals to Jason and I. With a clear sense that audiences for classical music are dropping all around the world, it was a privilege to hear each of the the groups speak with such passion about the ways that they wanted to present music differently. There was plenty of discussion with the participants about their ideas and with the presenters regarding who should receive the award, so this again was a fantastic way to get to know each other!

While we were away we were taken out to Chinese Banquets by the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble and the Hong Kong Sinfonietta – what a great tradition taking visitors out to dinner, maybe this is something we should do a bit more in Australia!

Watch a clip from the opening night of the Notating Beauty exhibition, where Ensemble Offspring performed below

Reflections from home – by Claire

It’s always amazing how, when one travels, it takes only a couple of days to get back into the swing of things back home – to the point where you almost forget what you’ve just experienced too quickly. You’re suddenly back into that (often mundane) routine. Likewise, I am the sort of person who doesn’t think a huge amount about where I’m going before I arrive – so the touring memory is an ephemeral one.

And now, reflecting, the main thing I take away from our recent trip to Hong Kong is actually the people – and specifically my fabulous colleagues Lamorna and Jason. I almost tear up when I think about how lucky I am to have them in my life both as colleagues and dear friends – they are the most awesome, no crap people you could ever meet. They are loads of fun (we are always laughing in rehearsals) and they are simply top class musicians too. I am so fortunate to have them to play with almost weekly and touring to Hong Kong and ‘playing’ with them there too was total joy.

So we arrived in Hong Kong and were straight into rehearsals the very next day – but first we were shown to our extremely classy apartments – our 2018 HK accommodation won the ‘poshest ever Ensemble Offspring rooms on tour’ award. Our concerts in Hong Kong were presented by Hong Kong Sinfonietta in partnership with Artistree, which is a Swire Properties venue, and they ‘put us up’ in their brand new building across the way in Quarry Bay. As we checked in, memories of our last time in Hong Kong seven years ago came flooding back – when Jason and I had to share a minuscule room and when we sat on the bed it also crashed to the ground and broke. Oh, those were the days… (Not!!!).

My other colleague on this tour was the lovely James Cuddeford. It has been almost seven years since we all played together and performing two movements from Fractured Again (by Ensemble Offspring’s previous Co-Artistic Director, Damien Ricketson) with James and Jason felt like the musical version of coming home. Some things never change and that is certainly the case with deep musical connections. I will never forget the moment at the end of our concert on Sunday when James’ string popped suddenly (and loudly) at the very end of Fractured Again. He finished the piece regardless like a true champion.

Charles Kwong definitely won the ‘favourite new-found composer on tour’ award. It’s not often that composers are as hands on as Charles and we really benefited from having time with him to simply digest his music and work with him on his sound worlds. He was so appreciative of our time spent working on his music, which is always heartening.

Once again, thank you thank you very much for your beautiful performance in the world premiere of my work “of no shore”! I can’t express how grateful I am for all your dedication and effort in bringing life to this new work, and I mean my every single word in how much I loved your performance! More importantly, I am deeply inspired by the quality, passion and friendship that I saw from you all in this whole time working with you. I am sure your superb performances and the selfless guidance to the young musicians during this time in Hong Kong will remain an inspiration to many of us. – Charles

We work with composers so often and hearing that gratitude spoken is enough to keep our batteries charged for future collaborative and creative endeavours.

And then there was Icy Yau from Hong Kong Sinfonietta who looked after our every move that week – I want an Icy in my life every day and I miss her already.

So how do I feel after our Hong Kong Tour? I feel like my batteries have been charged. I don’t feel drained or tired as is so often the case after a tour. Rather I feel excited for the future – and more specifically for the all of the collaborations and tours to Hong Kong, where we will be able to see our friends again, in coming years!