Stories from the Sapphire Coast

Artistic Director Claire Edwardes shares highlights from Ensemble Offspring’s 2022 residency at Four Winds in the beautiful south coast of NSW.

Bermagui and picturesque Barragga Bay hold a special place in many musicians’ hearts, thanks to the Four Winds Easter Festival, concerts and associated artist residencies. Ensemble Offspring were lucky enough to be Ensemble in Residence in 2015/2016 during which time and over several visits, we presented in local public schools in the Bega region and worked with FLING Physical Theatre on developing a new collaboration for the Opening Night of Four Winds 2016 Easter Festival. The score was Philip Glass’ epic Music in Changing Parts – let’s just say that the crowd responses was divided on that occasion: as is often the case with long-form early Glass, some people loved it, others not so much.

Fast-forward seven years and Ensemble Offspring were once again welcomed with open arms by the Sapphire Coast locals and the amazing Four Winds team, under the new artistic leadership of Matthew Hoy and Gabby Waters. We were delighted to reconnect with some colleagues from our past lives, including esteemed percussionist David Hewitt (Four Winds Education Officer) with whom I cut my teeth on new music back in the 90s! Also joining the team this time around was PR extraordinaire Lisa Herbert, who was the secretary of the New Music Network in Sydney back in the day, and one of my old buddies who I hadn’t seen in years. It was amazing to be surrounded by such talented people who so innately ‘get’ what it is that we are so passionate about!

The first day of our 2022 residency featured three performances: first up at Bermagui Preschool, then over to the packed-out Mister Hope café, and finally an impromptu evening show at the local pub (my favourite quote coming from a regular up the back who, during one of our pieces exclaimed loudly “I don’t much mind the oboe” – we think he meant the clarinet). Intrigued and excited audiences, young and old alike, followed us around Bermagui that day and we felt like veritable pop stars – which doesn’t happen very often when you’re a classically trained musician!

Ensemble Offspring perform at Bermagui Beach Hotel

The next day included private performances at Windsong Pavilion for volunteers and donors, where we got into to the nitty gritty of art music, commissioning, working with First Nations Artists, and what it means to be a collaborative chamber musician. People really seemed to lap up Ensemble Offspring’s alternative approach to music-making and we had such a great time sharing our music and insights.

The residency concluded with our Songbirds concert, to a packed crowd at the beautiful Windsong Pavilion, and with a stunning pre-set by Freya Schack-Arnott on nyckelharpa accompanied by Jason Noble on clarinet. The love and energy in the room was overwhelming, and we remarked to each other afterwards that we wish every one of our chamber music performances could be so intimate and focused. My favourite reaction of the night was from a local firefighter: “Please tell Claire that as an individual significantly impacted by the Badja Forest fire that swept through Cobargo two summers ago. I found incredible healing through her performance tonight of [Ella Macen’s] Falling Embers. As part of the Cobargo RFS, I stood in town and surrounding localities defending property amidst burning homes and falling embers for 30 odd days. This piece today touched me in a beautifully, meditative way, that has moved me so much closer to healing and closure.”

It is these reactions that bring a tear to the eye and make that 6-hour trip south of Sydney more than worthwhile. Our music is created to touch, inspire and move people in whatever way they need in that moment – and right now living new music is the ideal balm for so many of us. Thank you to Four Winds for a magical week and we can’t wait to return!