Claire Edwardes is bringing Australian stories to life through dynamic percussion on stage.

The West Australian Symphony Orchestra’s 2021 program brings Australian artists centre stage, and in no piece is this more evident than Dances with Devils: Percussion Concerto, performed as part of this week’s Dances, Devils and Arabian Nights concert.

Celebrating home-grown talent, the work was composed by Perth Festival director and Australian composer Iain Grandage and will be performed by internationally acclaimed NSW based percussionist Claire Edwardes.

Claire Edwardes. Photo: Nat Cartney

Grandage and Edwardes initially met while performing in Windstrokes, a touring chamber music ensemble that travelled across the Kimberly region in the early 2000s. Friends ever since, the pair worked together to determine instrumentation and workshop the final arrangement of the piece, collaborating during the composition process.

The concerto includes a wide variety of percussion instruments, with marimba, waterphone, tubular bells and crotales all featuring on stage. The tubular bells play a visual, as well as auditory role in the second movement ‘The Conquering Bush’, during which the chimes are attached to Edwardes using a pulley system and dipped in water, evoking both the imagery and soundscape of the washerwoman in Edward Dyson’s story from which the movement takes its name.

Each of the four movements focus on an Australian Gothic short story, highlighting the colonial experiences of four women. Ghosts, animals, swagmen and remote landscapes are brought to life by the diverse instrumentation, conjuring a sonic environment that places audiences in the mythic Australian Bush.

Edwardes describes the music as “filmic” and “dramatic”. “It’s quite satisfying to play. The way my sounds combine with the orchestra, it feels almost like movie music.”

Claire Edwardes. Photo: Heiderun Lohr

In particular, the instrumentation makes the piece an enjoyable challenge for Edwardes. “I like how Iain combined the marimba and the drums, and the bit where I play marimba, tambourine and temple blocks at the same time. It’s quite fun combining them all rather than playing them separately”.

Variety and scale of instruments aside, Edwardes says that people don’t need to know anything about a percussion concerto when approaching the work, and that the stories of the colonial women are more important.

“It’s about what do all those sound worlds together conjure for people in terms of the stories.”


Dances, Devils and Arabian Nights

Friday 9th April 2021, 7.30pm

Perth Concert Hall