Reviews of various concerts and premieres.

“The Wilderness is a show I wish I could’ve seen as a child so I could have it locked in my brain forever. It’s one of those shows that expands the imagination and warms the heart. I don’t think I’ve seen a show that has made me so outright happy in a long, long time, and or one that makes me feel bad for listening to music that isn’t as good as this. It’s a show that deserves a long life, and I hope it hangs around for more audiences to experience and have their days, and their lives, made that much better.” – Lumiere Reader, reviewing Blackbird Ensemble ‘The Wilderness.’

“Director and arranger Claire Cowan knows what it is to get under the skin of a song and renovate it from the inside out. They know that, to their audience, these songs are little houses where their hearts once lived. The Blackbird Ensemble moves into those houses, makes themselves at home, and then throws an ecstatic party. The Blackbird experience is the whole live music experience; it acknowledges that the impact of a performance depends on what people see and feel as much as what they hear. At this ‘Night Sky’ gig—as they did at other two Blackbird gigs I’ve caught—the whole venue is transformed into an expectant vessel for magic.” – Celeste Oram, The Listener Blog

“It’s not the setting you’d expect to find a chamber orchestra in, which is of course the point. Director Claire Cowan’s ensemble does for classical music what no number of NZSO v Shapeshifter collaborations could ever really achieve: modernising classical music and making it more accessible to a wider audience without resorting to dumbing it down. But more so than the set design (and costuming, which matches the set’s eeriness perfectly), it’s Cowan’s musical direction that really bridges the divide between chamber music and the young, gig-going audience.” – Pantograph Punch

“Aucklander Claire Cowan’s Subtle Dances took the audience through a delightfully eclectic musical world tour with snatches of Piazzolla, the gravity of Shostakovich melded with earthy blues and Reich’s hypnotic rhythmic shifts. It is a measure of her talent that she achieves these allusions while creating a voice of her own.” -Otago Daily Times

“You are unlikely to hear a more diverse array of music from any other ensemble in town. Everything here is selected for its connection to the night sky, deep space, the cosmos, arranged and/or re-orchestrated by director/band leader/composer Claire Cowan and played with verve and evident delight.”-Theatreview review of The Night Sky

“The score by Claire Cowan cradles the dance, showing off the minutiae of the movements, as music that is good for dance should do. It is hollow, deep, squelchy, lunar and evokes the steady flow of body and ocean fluids that we see in the dancers’ bodies.”- Theatrescenes review of ‘Aquisitions’ by Touch Compass.

“In wood : strings : hammers : flesh, performed beautifully by NZTrio, Claire Cowan’s unexpectedly percussive scoring of violin, cello and, especially, piano, almost relegated the music to the background. We marveled at the range of sounds knuckles, fingertips and palms can make on violin and cello bodies, strings, and the lid, rim and underside of the piano case – aside from the sight of a pianist practically climbing inside Mr Steinway’s instrument to pluck, mute and do who knows what else to the strings and other hardware inside. Drama, intrigue, unexpected turns and aural and visual surprises blended with the actual music to fascinate and delight.” –

“..effective and delineating life above and below the currents is Claire Cowan’s exquisite soundscape, an eclectic employment of instruments that gives life to sea creatures of all descriptions, hers is a score that fully satiates.” – Theatrescenes review of SEA by Red Leap Theatre.

“But the real theatrical innovations are built up around the entirely wordless third woman placed centre stage: musician Claire Cowan as Luna. Luna’s status is intriguing – perhaps our guide, perhaps helper or hinderer, she arranges bodies and affects the action rather than being inside it.She also supplies the aural force of the piece. Cowan’s music is among the best theatre scores I’ve heard, and her theatrical yet unobtrusive performance is a pleasure to watch. She plays live cello, and live spoons, in echoing duets with recordings; she plucks at her violin, holding it like a ukelele. She uses the cello body as a percussion instrument, and then literally dances with it.” – Janet McAllister -NZ Herald

“….playful, quixotic and jazzy, the music enacting some kind of game of chase between right and left hands and white and black keys. There were lovely ambient changes of texture through pedal effects, over which exotic folk-instrumental colours and repeated gamelan-like notes sounded and resounded, before the jolly skipping rhythm of the opening returned, creating a rather whimsical impression of something familiar turned every which way and regarded in a new light.”
– Peter Mechen, of “Shadowhands” performed by John Chen, Lower Hutt

“….I’m sure she’s going to figure very very strongly in New Zealand composition for orchestra in the future.”
– Upbeat Review, Concert FM

“the orchestra carefully illuminated the pinpoint details of its opening pages and responded with enthusiasm when its resident composer demanded an outburst of Ravelian sumptuousness.”
– William Dart, NZ Herald

“Trains of Thinking” showed all the delicacy and acute ear for orchestral detail that we’ve come to expect from the composer of “My Alphabet of Light”. At the outset, harp, winds and strings awaken each other, alternating their differing textural strands as with tapestried detail, rhythms crossing and interweaving and colours creating a hugely luminous effect, through which motoric impulses occasionally ride, some subtle, and some quasi-disruptive. The textures and colours constantly evolve into something new, reflecting the ever-changing nature of things, with even the powerful string ostinati undergoing its own evolutionary phase. The piece courts both ritualistic and ceremonial modes before returning to the harp’s somewhat enigmatic repeated-note opening.”
– Peter Mechen, Concert FM

“Claire Cowan is young but has already had successes both here and overseas, writing theatre, dance and film music, as well as for orchestra. Her imagination is not just musical; for her piece here, Legend of the Trojan Bird, she created her own greek legend about a trojan bird. Her music is melodic, descriptive and charming, a pleasant sorbet to refresh the ears between the more demanding sounds of Harris and Psathas.” – NZ Listener



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