In a time that requires creativity to pay the mortgage, Edwardes’ answer to the shocks has been to rethink the ensemble’s birthday season and create special online projects, the first of which are two new studio concerts from her home studio celebrating solitude.
This Sunday, Edwardes has two sold-out Zoom concerts, each with an audience capacity of 20, premiering the work of composer Ella Macens and introducing a handpicked audience to her five-octave marimba, vibraphone, and waterphone.
Edwardes is trying for something more intimate and interactive in her home percussion studio than the free, streamed, archival performances from the world’s concert halls.
“Sure, you can put the thumbs up and the comments in on Facebook but otherwise you don’t feel particularly like you have a commitment to that performer or that stream,'” Edwardes says. “So you can come and go as you please – the way you would never do at an actual concert.
“In a way what I am attempting is a little more along the lines of the Melbourne Digital Concert Hall because it actually happens in real-time and people buy a ticket so they feel committed to treating it as an at-home recital.”
Using Zoom, Edwardes can communicate with her audience between pieces as she would in an intimate real-life concert event.
“The other great thing about this solution for me is that my five-octave marimba is a total beast to transport to other venues,” she says. “So I feel quite fortunate to be able to present a concert from my practice situation and people can still enjoy this beautiful and unusual instrument that doesn’t get out very often.”
Chair of Sydney Youth Orchestra, and long-time supporter, Shane Simpson, says monetising online performances during these uncertain times was crucial to the longevity of artists and the arts sector.
“Free doesn’t pay the mortgage,” Simpson says. “For the audience performance is entertainment but for the musicians it has to be a business if they are going to survive. Entertainment can be free but survival requires remuneration.”
Edwardes is aiming for the highest possible sound quality within existing constraints. Through a single-angle camera, the small audience will have the opportunity to look and listen, applaud, ask questions and interact with each other.
In this unusual way, Edwardes can experience her audience too. If there is audience interest, she plans to schedule more concerts.
“I specifically targeted my own personal database of supporters and didn’t try to advertise through the less personal social media channels as I really wanted this to be a special treat for those people who follow me and Ensemble Offspring closely,” she said.
“They also feel like they are giving back to my livelihood as an artist through making a financial contribution and I think when people are in a position to do so, this is really important during this crisis time.
Edwardes isn’t sure of Ensemble Offspring’s long-term future given the funding cuts and shutdowns. There remains a huge amount of doubt around the viability of a lot of art-making, she notes.
“Finding out about our declined Australia Council funding at the start of the lockdown was tough as I think we were all struggling just to work through the reality of no longer being able to perform publicly or together and then to find out that news was a real blow,” she says.
“But we have all picked ourselves up as fast as possible and we are all trying to focus on our art-making to get us through. That is another reason why I decided to arrange these concerts – they are for me and my own sanity as much as anything else.”
Linda Morris is an arts and books writer at The Sydney Morning Herald