Broken Consorts – Ensemble Offspring and Ironwood @ The Utzon Room

In rehearsal : Veronique Serret, Zubin Kanga, Jason Noble from Ensemble Offspring
In rehearsal : Veronique Serret, Zubin Kanga, Jason Noble from Ensemble Offspring

This collaboration by two groups well known to Sydney audiences is a significant one. It breaks down so beautifully many preconceptions of fixed genres, historical sound options and what audiences expect to hear from particular composer’s works.

BROKEN CONSORTS is a performance practice workshop which maintains the two groups’ period identities whilst premiering possibilities using an exciting blend of resources. The essence and energy of compositions from each period are maintained and the early music pieces in particular are further celebrated through inventive rescoring. The playing of very recent works, including the highlight of a premiere work commissioned for the event illustrates that such blending is not only possible but an interesting new direction.

Composer Damien Ricketson’s introduction to his 2003 work Trace Elements  explained his invention of a new notation based on tablature for early lute music. His work’s exploration of this and its potential in the parts for a flexible blend of strings and wind is consistent with the goals of the entire concert. The work’s elements of stasis as well as dramatic shifts were expressively delivered by Ironwood and Ensemble Offspring members together.

Composer Felicity Wilcox offered valuable insight into her creative process for Uncovered Ground (2015). This engaging commission work comprehensively answers the brief of exploiting this collaboration’s combined ingredients and backgrounds. Its programmatic references to the history of a building wall and rediscovery of what lies below the modern rendering is attractive, appropriate to the event and is achieved smoothly in the music. The work also blends early and new music styles effortlessly and evenly. Its inclusion is a highlight of the programme and a brilliant flagship for the sensibilities of the project.

The concert programme is bookended by works typical of each ensemble’s standard canon. Starting the concert, Ironwood’s presentation of Matthew Locke’s Consort of Flower Parts (ca.1661) is a satisfying intact consort soundscape from which the journey to other sonorities begins. Mary Finsterer’s Silva (2013) ends the programme as a work written with twenty-first century options. The choice of Silva with references to Thomas Tallis and Schubert is here a fitting conclusion.

Locke’s Suite from the Tempest (1674) is brought theatrically to life via Ensemble Offspring’s cover version of it on Zubin Kanga’s prepared piano and with percussionist Claire Edwardes’ wealth of shifting colours. No precision or delicacy was lost in the making of this arrangement.

A rewarding collaborative effort can be heard in the shorter work, William Lawes Fantasy from ‘Consorts in Six Parts (ca1630’s). Players from both ensembles blend with seamless effortless success. The music is extended in so many directions but nothing is out of place nor twisted awry with regards to tone colour. It evolves as a new sound from a shared origin.

This collaboration has no shocking or unpleasant results. There is no jarring J.S Bach on the moog synthesizer here. The calibre of performers and thought behind the selections of music will ensure future concerts and recordings of this ilk are equally successful and consumable as a timeless twenty-first century treat.

BROKEN CONSORTS has been on tour. It concludes with another concert at the Utzon Room, Sydney Opera House on Sunday 1 March at 3pm.

For more about Broken Consorts – Ensemble Offspring and Ironwood, visit