Two of Australian music’s leading ladies, Claire Edwardes and Amy Dickson, on reviving their duo.

There are some instrumental combinations that have a virtually limitless supply of repertoire to choose from. For those staple ensembles of the chamber music canon (piano trios, string quartets, wind quintets, etc.) there’s no shortage of music to explore when devising a programme. But what’s to be done when the instrumental combination is of a less conventional variety? As saxophonist Amy Dickson and percussionist Claire Edwardes have shown with the selection for their upcoming collaboration, Life in a Day, the answer is to get creative.

As two of Australian music’s leading ladies, both artists have forged impressive careers specialising in instruments some might consider on the edge of mainstream classical music. Dickson’s international success, which includes winning a coveted Classical Brit Award for Breakthrough Artist of the Year in 2013 as well as securing two Grammy nominations, has made her the poster girl for classical saxophone, both in Australia and overseas. With one foot in a distinctly commercial territory and the other rooted in the world of contemporary music (and in particular Australian new music) Dickson has a reputation for playing repertoire from a hugely eclectic range of different genres.

Percussionist Claire Edwardes

Similarly decorated is Edwardes, who in addition to being one of Australia’s most celebrated percussionists, is also the Artistic Director of Sydney-based contemporary music specialists Ensemble Offspring.  Twice winner of the APRC/AMCOS Art Music Award for Outstanding Contribution to Australian Music, Edwardes has been prolific in commissioning and performing new Australian works. With both these artists boasting contemporary music credentials of such a high calibre, it’s little wonder that the programme for Life in a Day features modern Australian music including a world premiere from Australian jazz piano legend Alister Spence.

However they are also raiding the musical archives of several of the more typical instrumental line-ups to give a 21st-century facelift to some of classical music’s most beloved pieces. With a programme featuring music spanning from the Baroque, through to Schumann, Debussy and Fauré, Dickson and Edwardes have taken the lack of repertoire for their idiosyncratic instrumental pairing into their own hands, by creating some original arrangements. “I have been excited about this combination for such a long time now. I hope our audiences will be to,” Dickson shares. “I think that this quite unusual duo opens up so many opportunities to dip into new sound worlds. The partnership of saxophone and percussion is hugely exciting.”

This latest performance builds upon a musical collaboration that Edwardes and Dickson have been developing for over seven years. First performing as a duo in 2008 at the Cheltenham Festival in the UK, the two musicians have been in search of an opportunity to resurrect the partnership ever since. This came when the Australia Council agreed to fund the commission of a new work for Dickson and Edwardes by Alister Spence. Spence’s jazz aesthetic provides the perfect bridge between the modern repertoire and the more familiar classics, Edwardes believes. “It’s been a brilliantly collaborative process, working very closely with Alisiter. The piece definitely explores both a jazz and classical background, but also takes the music into a more contemporary realm too,” says Edwardes of the new piece. “I think it’s been a really exciting process for him too, working with musicians like us who are up for using extended techniques and playing different instruments.”

The equilibrium between programming the classical hits, familiar to most music lovers, and the little-known gems of contemporary Australian composition, has been an essential consideration for the selection of music for Life in Day. ‘We use the more accessible works to introduce the audience to the saxophone and percussion sound world, before taking them on a journey into the future of music. Having both those aspects together is really important to us both,” says Edwardes.

But beyond the musical discoveries Edwardes and Dickson will be offering for Life in a Day, the two musicians are excited to be reviving their duo. “Our first performances together in 2008 were wonderful. It was a hugely enjoyable collaboration for me and something we have both been longing to repeat,” Dickson beams. “We are thrilled to be playing together again after so many years.”

Amy Dickson and Claire Edwardes present Life in a Day at the Riverside Studios, Parramatta, May 3, the Canberra International Music Festival, May 1 (part of Bach’s Universe performance), and Manly Music, May 15.