The Freestyle Orchestra & Ross Edwards' Maninyas Violin Concerto

"In creating a sound world uniquely his own, Australian composer Ross Edwards has responded chiefly to his natural environment. In the early 1970s he experienced a compositional crisis where he found he was no longer able to compose and could not even listen to music. Instead he turned to sounds of the Australian bush for consolation with striking creative consequences.

Although composed in 1988, the stylistic origins of Maninyas date from the period between 1977 and 1984 when Edwards was living in a coastal village north of Sydney. Composing in this tranquil environment adjoining a national park, two distinct musical styles emerged, each strongly influenced by the sounds and rhythmic patterns of the natural environment.

The first of these is characterised by refined, subtle and austere textures and has come to be known as Edwards’ sacred style because of its alignment with certain oriental musical traditions. Here, isolated sound events are conceived for their spatial and timbral intensity. Rather than hearing a logically ordered sequence of events, the listener becomes aware of the uniqueness of each acoustic experience. The beginnings of Edwards’ sacred style appear in the orchestral work Mountain Village in a Clearing Mist (1973) and can be identified in such works as The Tower of Remoteness (1978), for clarinet and piano, and Yarrageh (1989), for solo percussion and orchestra.

The other style is characterised by an abstraction of insect and bird sounds, lively tempi and rhythms, angular pentatonic melodies and simple drone-like harmonies and is now referred to as the maninya style. This latter style is developed in the Maninya series, a set of vocal and instrumental works written in the years 1981-1986. In describing the compositional process for Maninyas, the composer mentions [...]

 ‘I had an “up-feeling” in the piece. I’d been writing deeply introspective music and I suddenly noticed the outside world. It was just intensely ecstatic – the sky was blue, the warm air was full of shrieking parrots and an irresistible impulse to dance suddenly took over the music.’"


  - Apollonov, Nina. “Maninyas: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1988).” Ross Edwards. Accessed September 20, 2020. 

See also: 

Carrigan, Jeanell. "Towards an Australian style: on the relationship between the Australian landscape and natural environment and the music of Peter Sculthorpe and Ross Edwards." (1994).

Green, Phoebe, BMus Perf, and LMus Viola VCA. "The Influence of Nature on Two Works for the Viola by Toru Takemitsu and Ross Edwards." (2010).

Hannan, M. F. (1986). Ross Edwards: A Unique Sound World. APRA Journal, 4(1), 12–15. sitor

Skinner, Graeme. "Ross Edwards: music of contemplation and sanctuary." 24 Hours (1992): 40-42.

Ross Edwards' Interview

Compositional Crisis, Collaboration and Ways Forward; 

Envisioning Music as Movement, Nature & (Novel) Ritual

Curtain call

Tea with Ross and Helen Edwards

Edwards' crisis parallels that of the classical music scene which itself is ostensibly in the throes of a quiet crisis  arguably one which is self-inflicted, rooted in dogmatic ritualistic elitism which threatens its legitimacy and relevance in the 21st century, a time when values of inclusion and identity — the ability to personally and emotionally connect with an artistic experience  are paramount.

In choosing to directly embrace the corporeal (one of Edwards' favorite descriptions for his own music), the joyful, and the aesthetically engaging in their approach to and performance of this work  the Freestyle Orchestra has developed their own, personal, ritual through their rendition of Maninyas.

Edwards described creating a "new ritual" while composing it:

The costume colors  a variety of sand, blue and green hues  were designed to reflect the Australian beach / bush, and the lighting design bookends the work with "sunrise" and "sunset" hues.

Upon arriving in Australia, members of The Freestyle Orchestra spent time with Ross and Helen Edwards at their home in Balmain. They took dawn nature walks through the bush near Newcastle as an homage to Ross' Pearl Beach inspiration for his Maninya and sacred styles, and his way forward from compositional crisis.

"I happened to be living in an idyllic place at the time and it had a positive effect. And this, for me, restored the inevitable, age-old connection between music and movement, music and ritual  and so on  which I felt had been neglected in much contemporary art music, isolated, as it often was, from its natural associations with other art forms and  more or less neutralized in the modern concert hall"

-Ross Edwards

"Anyone who's heard my violin concerto, Maninyas, might recognise it as another kind of ritual, actually a celebration of lightness, joyfulness and vitality, which I hoped would have the effect of healing and uplifting. So, ... both the Violin Concerto and the Symphony are concerned with bringing an element of ritual into the concert hall, and to do this they use some of the traditional tools of ritualistic music-repetitive chant sustained over harmonic drones, which have the sense of timelessness in order to focus the listener's attention on the present moment."

"Far more important an influence than any music, however, was the natural environment, a timeless continuum from which much of the structural material was distilled. I’ve found the ecstatic and mysterious sound-tapestry of the insect chorus in the heat of the Australian summer to be a particularly fertile source of inspiration, and this is manifest in the somewhat quirkish periodicity of some of my early music. Although its presence is more abstract in the maninya pieces, it remains the supreme generative force behind everything I write."

-Ross Edwards, Notes on the Maninyas Series