16 September 2021
2021 Art Music Awards - what the judges said
We are extremely pleased to be able to bring you a summary of the deliberations and the hard work by the 2021 Art Music Awards judging panels. Read on to find out what they said about the wonderful finalists and winners across all categories. For the winners' announcement, see this article on Resonate (9 September).
The 2021 Art Music Awards panels were chaired by Sia Ahmad and Peta Williams, who deserve our very special thanks. The AMC and APRA AMCOS would also like acknowledge the following dedicated people who served in the panels: Adam Yee, Alexander Hunter, Ben Northey, Bridget Chappell, Cara Anderson, Danni Zuvela, Daryl Pratt, Elena Schwarz, Elizabeth Scott, Emily Tulloch, Harriet Cunningham, Ian Parsons, Jessica Nicholas, Johannes Luebbers, Jonathan Tooby, Joseph Twist, Keith Deverall, Kevin March, Kiriaki Zakinthinos, Laura Altman, Lawrence English, Linda May Han Oh, Luke Styles, Megan Burslem, Miyuki Jokiranta, Nicholas Williams, Nicolette Fraillon, Rishin Singh, Robert Davidson, Robyn Veitch, Robyn Holmes, Sean Foran, Steven Hodgson, Yitzhak Yedid, Zela Margossian.
Excellence in Experimental Music
Overall comment: The panel acknowledged that this year's Award is one for resilience - in light of the circumstances, the high standard of Australian creativity shone through the wealth of diversity and quality among the nominations. The panel was pleased to see the interwoven respect for each other within this musical community. Many of the nominees were looking to create deep connections in their lives and practice through a unique lens pertinent to the year gone by. Overall, it was great to come across emerging, raw talent and see exciting new works from established artists, all of which is a great indicator on the healthy state of the Australian music ecology.
Leah Barclay, Lyndon Davis and Tricia King for Listening in the Wild (WINNER). A well-produced collection of transient listening experiences interwoven with Gubbi Gubbi stories, there are no projects more exciting and necessary in Australia at this time than Listening in the Wild. With its strong connection to Indigenous community and respect for their co-operative collaboration, this project breaks down the meaning of experimental music very constructively and provides a vehicle for traditional owners to take ownership over creating sound in this context. An exquisite display of site-specific sound art for climate action rendered in the moment so professionally.
hiberNATION Festival for Hibernation Festival of the Lo-Fi. A very successful large-scale project with solid participation numbers, Hibernation Festival of the Lo-Fi was a playground of discovery, a new space to share creativity in spontaneous and intimate forms with an audience and peers. It provided a much-needed collaborative support network and a learning resource for creators adapting their practice to the digital future, especially early career creatives. Results during the festival were diverse and interesting, celebrating genuine experimentation at the base level and injecting freshness into a format that had become tired during lockdown.
Decibel New Music Ensemble for '2 Minutes From Home'. Another project from Decibel that lived up to their usual high standards, '2 Minutes From Home' was a great exercise in supporting their community of artists and audience during a year of cancelled and delayed activity. The project's success lied in the high-quality productions delivered online, bringing together music made in isolation with appealing visual designs integrated with their trademark ScorePlayer app to allow the listener to follow the music during its performance.
Keyna Wilkins for activities in new music throughout 2020. The panel applauds Wilkins for producing a great wealth of output that began in a pre-COVID landscape, inhabited the depths of lockdown and concluded as we were able to get back to working in rooms with our peers. In particular, her collaborative works with didjeridu performer Gumaroy Newman were notable highlights and shone a light on the respectful and equal relationship the two of them shared.
Excellence in Music Education
Overall comment: The panel was pleased and inspired that the quality of nominations this year had not been affected by the COVID pandemic. It was noted that many of the nominees were quick to adapt to a unique situation and not only deliver high-quality and engaging programs but, in some cases, achieved organisational transformation as well. There was close competition in this category. Overall, an outstanding selection of nominees that celebrate the high quality of music education on offer in Australia.
Moorambilla Voices for Moorambilla Magic modules - COVID 2020 (WINNER). The panel applauded Moorambilla Voices for their incredible efforts to connect the children of regional and remote NSW, during COVID, to country and creativity through the Moorambilla Magic modules. This created a program with strong curriculum-based material that was easily accessible to all via any standard of online device and has ongoing life as professional development resource for teachers. The program proved to be a great form of outreach to those children in remote areas and highlighted Moorambilla's ability to continually improve in engaging the community. The program has created a seismic shift in the way creative arts is taught in regional NSW.
Musica Viva for Musica Viva in Schools Online. A fantastic ongoing program that saw significant cultural and policy changes made during the lockdown - the staggering impact of Musica Viva in Schools Online has made on metropolitan and regional areas is exceptional and something to behold. The speed at which Musica Viva adapted to delivering this program as an online learning tool was commendable and shows potential to transform the schools' program even further in future. Of particular note, the panel acknowledges the great steps made towards developing Wyniss, an Indigenous performing ensemble led by artists from the Torres Strait. Led by composer Dujon Niue from Mua Island and the performers in consultation with members of the Mua Island community, this program offered engaging curriculum-aligned experiences and encouraged all participating schools to engage directly with their local Indigenous communities to learn more about local cultural protocol.
Australian Art Orchestra for Creative Music Intensive 2020. The panel recognises the sheer musical excellence that comes out from the Creative Music Intensive year in, year out. Moving away from their usual home in Tasmania due to COVID restrictions, the Australian Art Orchestra hosted the 2020 intensive on the Victorian coast and brought together emerging improvising musicians with experienced facilitators who draw on their own extraordinary cultural traditions and perspectives to investigate contemporary approaches to improvisation. The panel thought it was great that, in spite of COVID, the Wilfred brothers could travel from Ngukurr in Arnhem Land and once again share their musical and cultural practices as part of the intensive.
Speak Percussion for Sounds Unheard - 2020 Education Program. Another great ongoing program from an acclaimed new music organisation. The panel noted the extremely high-quality material produced by the participants during the year, with a significant degree of stylistic diversity not always seen in these type of programs. Sounds Unheard successfully connects all participants with the music of now, offering unique opportunities for these young musicians to learn from and work with leading professional musicians from Australian and beyond over an extended period of time.
Performance of the Year: Jazz/Improvised Music
Overall comment: The panel felt that this year nominations were deeply affected by the COVID restrictions, not just practically but emotionally and in conceptual practice. They noted the overall innovations and excellence within the eligible field and that there was a wide spectrum of styles among the nominations, indicating variety with the genre at present. The panel were pleased to see a strong display of cultural diversity among the nominated list.
The Phonetic Orchestra for performance Silent Towns by the Phonetic Orchestra on YouTube (WINNER). The panel felt this nomination was an amazing exercise in connecting musicians together through the digital medium and delivered a great performance through adversity. Offering a musical journey that the audience could dip in and out of over 24 hours, this unique experience allowed listeners to feel a sense of community despite their distance to one another, with an inspiring quality to the shared energy generated within the work. These performers are emerging leaders within improvised music who continue to expand and challenge their craft and what it means to make this kind of music in Australia. Silent Towns is truly an awe-inspiring achievement that represents how this music can provide meaningful connection in a time of extreme isolation.
Vazesh (Jeremy Rose, Hamed Sadeghi and Lloyd Swanton) for the performance Sacred Key at the Sydney Opera House. The panel loved this unique collaboration that showed a high level of musicianship. As three musicians who are respected for their performing abilities and recorded output, it is great to see them use improvisation as a way to cut across disparate musical traditions and challenge themselves to create a new shared language. Vazesh offers new frameworks to engage instruments not commonly seen in improvised settings, liberating them from tradition to explore new roles with group settings and long-form improvisation.
Loretta Palmiero and Mark Isaacs for performance of All Who Travel With Us at the Free Energy Device Studios, Sydney. A celebration of musical connection built upon intuition, imagination and innovation; the panel found this performance to be of an exceptional standard. Palmiero and Isaacs have distinctive and individual voices as improvisers, and this performance is a wonderful outcome for the years of heart and soul put into their collaboration. They are so attuned to one another that the improvisations performed during All Who Travel With Us have the feel and shape of composed pieces that navigate through the boundaries between jazz, classical music, new music and many other genres.
Phil Slater, Matt Keegan, Matt McMahon, Brett Hirst and Simon Barker for performance of The Golden Seam by Phil Slater at Old 505 Theatre, Sydney. A strong quintet performance by well-established musicians who continue to innovate and evolve their craft. The panel applauds the performers for this beautiful display of connection between themselves through deep, thoughtful listening. There is remarkable conviction and clarity in how the ensemble performs The Golden Seam. As an ongoing meeting of rich musical voices, the performers move together through the work as a single entity and create atmospheric music that feels floating and mysterious, flowing in a way few ensembles are able to achieve.
Performance of the Year: Notated Composition
Overall comment. Panellists were really happy to come across the range of diversity in the category, noting the variety of styles covered in the nomination list. It was quite notable that there was a good amount of new music nominated this year. Within the top six nominations, the quality was quite high and the panel celebrated the energy of performances within their personal rankings. There was an abundance of performing musical talent up for nomination this year.
Jessica O'Donoghue, Sydney Chamber Opera, Jack Symonds and Clemence Williams for performance of Commute by Peggy Polias at Carriageworks, Sydney (WINNER). This nomination was a clear stand-out in terms of performance and recording quality. Jessica O'Donoghue convincingly and wholeheartedly executed the physical demands of Clemence Williams's directing and the production to give an authentic and emotive portrayal of feminine empowerment, in an opera weaving reflection on urban street harassment and gendered violence with motifs from Ancient Greek myth and Homer's Odyssey. There was a strong connection with the dramatic narrative, which stood out during the whole performance, and the work lent itself to the visual representation, which was a textural masterpiece with strong, visceral qualities. Polias's brave and poignant indictment of public harassment, its embodiment by the redoutable O'Donoghue, and the astute associations drawn with Greek mythology positions Commute as a bold contribution to the advance of the operatic form.
Carl Rosman for performance of Subdue by Jakob Bragg at KM 28, Berlin. The panel saw many things in this performance - a great execution of technique, intense physical engagement throughout the entirety of the performance and a reminder of the difficulty in preparing for the amount of extended technique featured in the work. Subdue fully allowed Carl to display his breath control, subtlety of tone, range of dynamic, accuracy and fluidity with microtonal melisma, control of a variety of overblown sound events, and mastery of the full performing apparatus. This combined with Rosman's strong technical skill led to a great performance on full display here.
Emily Granger for performance of The Harp and The Moon by Ross Edwards at Melbourne Digital Concert Hall. The panel found the performance to be a superb example of a musician having a close, personal relationship with their music, someone who can truly inhabit the work and can dismiss barriers to the outcome. It could be heard in the effortless delivery of the work and felt in the emotional cadence that guided the performance. The Harp and The Moon is a unique solo work evocative of Edwards's style, and the performance demonstrates a mastery of the harp as an instrument in the modern musical landscape and a great sense of emotion, structure, and meaning through its interpretation of the notated composition itself.
Ensemble Offspring for performance of En Masse by Alex Pozniak at Phoenix Central Park, Sydney. The panel agreed that this was an outstanding performance, a testament to the collective musicianship of Ensemble Offspring and their longevity as a performing group. Led by conductor Roland Peelman, the performers attacked En Masse with great fearlessness, executing the weighty, metal-inspired rhythms with absolute clarity with great intensity. Their ongoing relationship with Peelman drew out a level of virtuosity that, despite the robustness of this material, supported a high degree of individual control and ensemble balance. The ensemble awareness here was most impressive, the result being a rich, subtly shifting palette of instrumental colours.
Work of the Year: Chamber Music
Overall comment. The panel had a robust conversation about the merits of all nominations and felt the works up for discussion showed a certain level of consideration for the messages they were trying to convey through the works themselves. The panel noted that there was a good balance between new emerging talents to keep an eye out for in future and those who continue to polish their excellent long-standing practices. Between the panel members, this category allowed for a great opportunity to hear and learn from each other's perspective. It was pleasing to see the diversity of backgrounds and a few first timers among the panel member make up.
Anne Cawrse for A Room of Her Own performed by the Australian String Quartet (WINNER). The panel commended Cawrse for her deft handling of melody, harmony, form and rhythm, weaving melodies between instruments like conversations, transfixing and inviting engagement from the listener. Her use of the quartet was fantastic, using their musical abilities to support the emotions within the underlying themes. A Room of Her Own is a confident, assured, and luminous string quartet that offers 'something for everyone', and plenty for the performing quartet to sink their teeth into. A unique voice strong in concept, musicality, creative energy and ingenuity, this is a work that needs to be heard throughout the country and beyond.
Kate Neal for Canyon 1205, performed by Blair Harris. A great continuation of Neal's ongoing brilliance as a composer. The panel felt this work to be musically great and a worthy finalist in this year's category. Neal uses nuance in the shaping of every sound, exploiting the complete timbral palette of the cello. The harmonies established on the instrument using a combination of double-stop and col legno ricochet techniques vary the texture and add to the piece's poignancy. These textural devices, aided and abetted by a backdrop of electronic sounds, add to the visceral impact of Canyon 1205. Of particular note, the visual accompaniment to this work was well presented and supported the music wonderfully.
Katy Abbott for Hidden Thoughts II: Return to Sender performed by Flinders Quartet with Dimity Shepherd and Richard Piper. Setting musical threads behind words taken from letters sent by Australian citizens to asylum seekers on Nauru is an incredibly ambitious base to create a work with an intense musical intent. Navigating a string quartet, narrator and mezzo-soprano in a unique way, Abbott's voicing of chords, integration of text and rhythm, harmonic structure and colours has meant that Return to Sender was able to strike a very potent musical and emotional chord. It would have been tempting to over-sentimentalise the words but Abbott's experience in knowing how to craft an architectural framework for the story to grow and for the message to be heard shone through.
Gordon Kerry for Clarinet Quintet, performed by Omega Ensemble. A substantial, well-written chamber work, Clarinet Quintet is an important contribution to Australian composition and to the clarinet quintet form. The technically demanding work was written to match Omega Ensemble artistic director David Rowden's superior technique and lyricism, while also bringing the technical agility of the string players to the fore, with lyrical shared melodies, a grinding drive and demanding extended techniques. Kerry is an important and unique Australian voice, and this work demonstrates his wide- ranging expertise of instrumental techniques, while also wearing his heart on his sleeve through tearful melodic lines.
Work of the Year: Choral
Overall comment: The panel felt it was a unique year for this category as this form of music was deeply affected by the COVID epidemic and enforced lockdowns. It was noted that in the past, judging such work may have only involved consideration primarily of the score and sound recordings, but this year saw a number of innovative multimedia entries in which a visual component formed an integral part of the work. Perhaps the works were 'smaller in scope', and that is a symptom of the state of the world they were composed in. There was a lot of innovation, particularly in the case of works composed for choristers in lockdown. There was a high emphasis on conceptual thinking with each work but with COVID in full swing, traditional choral performance opportunities were scarce.
Lisa Young for Sacred Stepping Stones, performed by Gondwana Massed Choir (WINNER). The panel loved the immediate nature of this work and commented on how it felt engaging for both choristers and an audience, something that paid testament to the way this work was crafted. The choristers were highly engaged with the work and the lyrics resonate with current widespread environmental concerns. The panel applauded Lisa's ongoing commitment to research and application of non-Western musical forms within her own work and believe that this work will have a long life beyond its initial performances. A deeply moving performance, Sacred Stepping Stones speaks about the way the land shapes us, and how the planet is sacred and precious to us all.
Alice Chance for Until We Gather Again, performed by Leichhardt Espresso Chorus. Until We Gather Again is a strong example Chance's multidisciplinary practice and it is a poignant encapsulation of an unprecedented era for the arts, both in Australia and globally. The work showed technical depth and was clever in its presentation. The panel thought that form, technique and concept married beautifully in this work. The way this work brought the Leichhardt Espresso Chorus together through lockdown was a real feat of community building and the use of their simple, personal narratives on isolation was incredibly moving.
Clare Maclean for Beannaicht An Long (Blest be the Boat), performed by VOYCES. The panel applauded Maclean for crafting this substantial piece of music, full of complex textures and sonic detail. This twelve-part work for unaccompanied chorus displayed an exquisite, thoughtful and evocative response to its blend of Gaelic and Latin texts, accomplished voice-leading, and an atmosphere which exuded choral warmth. The well-known melodies interwoven with one another created rich, complex textures through contrapuntal treatment. As one of Australia's best-loved composers of choral music, Maclean has added a very fine new addition to the repertoire with Beannaicht An Long.
Amanda Cole for Singing in Tune with Nature, performed by choir of N.E.O Voice Festival. The panel really enjoyed hearing Cole's practice take great steps towards the development of an individual musical language. This was yet another work where performers were recorded virtually, but the panel saw potential for this work to be successful as a live performance with full spatial and acoustic considerations. There is an earnest engagement with temperament and microtonal tuning in the work, which highlights the journey Cole is taking as she continues to uncover her voice as a composer. An excellent and innovative contemporary choral piece, the singing techniques and microtonal tuning used in Singing in Tune with Nature are a metaphor for appreciating and focusing in on our natural environment.
Work of the Year: Dramatic
Overall comment. The panel were very pleased by the strong nominations to be found in this category. They were deeply impressed by a number of works, noting that they would be pleased to see them performed again. All finalists created works that were technically brilliant in various ways and showed great awareness of sound. Each work was a good demonstration of Gesamtkunstwerk, bringing together all related elements to create something stronger in its collective cohesion.
Erik Griswold for Dragon Ladies Don't Weep, performed by Margaret Leng Tan in a Chamber Made and & CultureLink Singapore co-production (WINNER). A colourful 50-minute suite for prepared piano, toy piano, toys, and percussion, the panel adored this standout choice for its wonderful concept, engaging composition and ever-present humour. The work absorbs ideas and influences from a number of Leng Tan's historical collaborators but showcases Griswold's strong individual voice as a composer with nods to their shared affinity for Chinese music. A collaboration across three continents, the involvement of these international artists has enriched the cultural language of Dragon Ladies Don't Weep, drawing out references from Leng Tan's childhood in Singapore, her adult life in New York, and placing them in a larger Asia-Pacific context. The result is a moving and dramatic work, unique in content, form and execution.
Peggy Polias for Commute, performed by Sydney Chamber Opera. A well-conceived work that has one foot in something historical and familiar while firmly planting the other into a world where there is musical and thematic contortion, Commute highlights relevant contemporary subject matter relating to female empowerment and the #metoo movement. Polias's style is revolutionary for the genre in the way she incorporates electronic elements in the score, straddling operatic and contemporary realms with heavy beats alongside haunting melodic moments. It is important to celebrate and support women's stories and voices within the operatic canon and this work is an excellent step in the right direction.
Georgia Scott for Her Dark Marauder, performed by Sydney Chamber Opera. A visually stunning production by the Sydney Chamber Opera for their 'Breaking Glass' online program, this work showcases the richness of new music being created by emerging Australian composers today. Scott creates an atmosphere of breathless oppression in Her Dark Marauder, a personal work that takes the platform of opera, coupled with the works and life of Sylvia Plath, to devise an interesting opportunity to re-examine how characters with disability are represented onstage, using music, libretto, and staging to bring the audience inside the lived experience of psychosocial disability rather than placing them as spectators to an able-bodied rendering of disability.
Josephine Macken for The Tent performed by Sydney Chamber Opera. The panel noted how Macken created a world of beautiful chaos in this work, using haunting electronics and the human voice to explore a technological dystopia. Inspired by the Margaret Atwood short story, The Tent is an opera with sparse singing: instead there are ominous roars, throaty gurgles and animalistic babbling. Very engaging in its slow-moving narrative, the dreamlike, almost entirely wordless score invites us to contemplate mythologies of presence, absence, loss and consciousness.
Work of the Year: Electroacoustic/Sound Art
Overall comment: The panel noted the high quality of nominations this year, with technical brilliance across the board. It was noted that there was a diverse range of nominations that took in a number of different approaches to creating electroacoustic and sound art works this year. An impressive list of works that celebrates the fine state of experimental music in Australia during a challenging year.
Tariro Mavondo, Reuben Lewis and Peter Knight for Closed Beginnings, performed by Tariro Mavondo, Reuben Lewis and Peter Knight (WINNER). The panel commended this nomination for bringing together electronic textures, spoken word and skilful instrumental performances to create a compelling sound world. Intended to be performed live by Mavondo, Lewis and Knight and premiered the day Victoria enforced their first hard COVID lockdown, the pivot to using a 'Exquisite Corpse' inspired device to convey the work online was an imaginative solution in a difficult time. The quality of the final outcome and the ingenuity of its premiere makes Closed Beginnings a deserving winner of this category.
Mindy Meng Wang for An Improvisation Through Time and Space 穿越时光的即兴, performed by Mindy Meng Wang. This panel deemed this nomination to be technically brilliant and one that ticked all the boxes in the criteria. The work is complex, deep, pure and carries a clear musical intention. Exploring the fertile space between traditional and contemporary practices, the musical structures used are innovative and fresh. Meng Wang really showcases her extraordinary skill in improvisation and is a good ambassador for diversity within the Australian music scene.
Amanda Cole for Oracle Chamber, performed by Lamorna Nightingale and James Nightingale. An interesting work that continues Cole's musical practice of melding electronically generated sine tones with live acoustic instruments, Oracle Chamber is a wondrous work that features an arch of meaning and emotion that speaks to both the physical elements of sound and the history of human interaction with the sonic world. Cole's search for perfection in terms of duration and balance within mathematical precepts of balance comes across strongly in this short but affecting work.
Jane Sheldon for Fugue, performed by Jane Sheldon and Kirsty McCahon. An arresting electroacoustic work written for the Sydney Dance Company's Pre-Professional year, Fugue set evocative ghostly texts, moments of bell-like clarity from Sheldon's sublime soprano voice, alongside sinewy textures made from the sound of breath and otherworldly string harmonics constructed from McCahon's double bass. The score was an excellent pairing to the movement onstage - at times engrossing and driving, while elsewhere almost completely empty and devoid of life. Sheldon's voice is unique amongst Australian composers with her perspective as one of our leading vocal talents now giving voice to a rich, intricate and very 'embodied' sound world.
Work of the Year: Jazz
Overall comment: The panel was really excited by the high quality of nominations this year, with a distinct closeness between the top 10 in their individual rankings. The panel found it interesting to consider the composers who considered themselves working within the jazz idiom and could have very easily been nominated in a different category for their work. Overall, this is an impressive list of works that celebrates jazz for its musical diversity and openness here in Australia.
Vanessa Perica for Spaccanapoli, performed by the Vanessa Perica Orchestra (WINNER). The panel felt this work to be a worthy winner of the Award this year. Acknowledged by Vanessa as her most risk-taking work yet, Spaccanapoli is an impressive work for large ensemble that has been recorded beautifully and allows the strong melodies and thematic development to shine. The panel loved Vanessa's wonderful use of the ensemble in the music and orchestration, allowing the cacophony and buzz of Naples' historic main street to come alive through the stand out solos, shifting time signatures and smooth harmonic shifts.
Paul Cutlan for Living, performed by Paul Cutlan's String Project. The panel loved this uplifting work, one that is cohesive from beginning to end and seamlessly melds composition and improvisation to create satisfying structures that support Cutlan's emotional narratives. Living displays boundless creativity; and a rare ability to bring together diverse influences to create music that is profound, original, expressive and utterly engaging.
Alister Spence, Lloyd Swanton, Toby Hall, Ed Kuepper for Asteroid Ekosystem, performed by Alister Spence Trio with Ed Kuepper. All four musicians involved in this work are revered for their ongoing contributions to Australian music and the panel highly rated this work as a strong meeting between their improvising voices. There is a richness of group ideas here, highlighting the musicians' instrumental mastery and control of timbre and texture. A unique combination of jazz and rock performance in an organic way, Asteroid Ekosystem is a beautifully realised collaboration between very innovative and experienced musicians.
Loretta Palmeiro & Mark Isaacs for All Who Travel With Us, performed by Loretta Palmeiro & Mark Isaacs. A captivating performance of improvisation which the panel felt translated into a complete work of real-time composition. All Who Travel With Us is a great example of how improvisation can create spontaneous magical moments and a longer journey, the creation of which we are witnessing on the spot, which has the potential to tell us a story. The interaction between the piano and saxophone was highly engaging with weaving melodic lines and shifts in dynamic and intensity. Combined with the richness of their individual sounds, it made for a compelling and enjoyable listening experience.
Work of the Year: Large Ensemble
Overall comment: The panel noted the quality of nominations this year, with the top entries being very close in their individual rankings. It was noted that the different forms among the nominations was a special thing to see this year, leading to interesting conversations among the panel about the diverse spectrum of music on offer here. This is an impressive list of works that celebrates musical excellence during a challenging year.
Cathy Milliken for Piece 43 For Now, performed by SWR Symphony Orchestra (WINNER). Inspired by Shakespeare's Sonnet 43 and marked in seven parts by the 7 gunshots aimed at Jakob Blake, Piece 43 For Now has an immediacy in emotional quality, teetering between exhilaration and stagnation; balancing on a knife-edge, the inner turmoil that infected so many of us in 2020. In some ways, it is a miracle that a piece of this scale was performed at all in the last year, but by live performers in a single room (albeit listened to only online), it was a remarkable achievement that marks the work of a mature composer writing some of her best work.
Holly Harrison for
Splinter, performed by San Jose State University
Wind Ensemble. A unique work for the ensemble setting.
The panel applauded the innovative ways Harrison uses her
compositional language to position the listener in a tug-of-war
somewhere between a hard rock concert and a classic whodunnit
soundtrack. The work unapologetically balances tension, whimsy,
and bold optimism before winking out with a mournful elegy.
Splinter delivers all the complexity of a modern wind band while still managing to make it terribly fun.
Yitzhak Yedid for Kadosh, Kadosh and Cursed performed by Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne. Yedid presents an original writing that manifest the tensions between ancient tradition and new-music 'trends'. Kadosh, Kadosh and Cursed offers a modernist procession of forceful gestures, ominous tone clusters, serpentine threads, and march-like cadences with a revealing mix of dissonance and harmonies. As a pianist and improviser in such diverse styles as the Western avant-garde, Mizrahi (Jewish-Arabic) art music, and free jazz, Yedid achieves a true synthesis which grants equal significance to these cultures and, moreover, draws on them for inspiration.
Cyrus Meurant for When I stand before thee at the day's end performed by Kirsten Williams and the Canberra Symphony Orchestra. A well-written, well-scored work by a fine young Australian composer. Meurant has created a beautiful response to the concept of 'healing' and is rich in both musical influence and poetic metaphor. The work is interesting in its approach, the immediate strength of the work heard in its soft and slow opening while the song of the solo violin sounded out beautifully over the strings through the progression of a deeply rich tune. Inspired by the words of Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, When I stand before thee at the day's end encapsulates the notion that, whilst through perseverance we can be healed and reconciled, we remain indelibly marked.
Overall comment: The Luminary Awards panel members were impressed with the high quality, vision and sustained contribution of many of the nominations to these Awards. The nominations reflected the breadth of activity across the sector, from commissioning and presentation activities through to educational, and socially and community-engaged activities. There were some exceptional nominees, who all displayed sustained contribution, significant national impact, championing of Australian repertoire, as well as visionary and inspirational leadership in their respective areas of work. Panel members were disappointed that there were so few nominations from some states/territories in the State/Territory Luminary Awards, and encourages more individuals and organisations to submit nominations to this category. Some nominations were great initiatives but did not provide adequate support material. The case needs to be made more clearly from the submitted documentation.
WINNER: Luminary Award Individual (National) - Deborah Kayser for a 30-year contribution to Australian music as a trail-blazing soprano. Deborah Kayser has, for three decades, been a guiding voice for new, innovative vocal music in Australia. Her achievements have been ground-breaking, sustained, and powerfully inspirational to composers and to generations of younger singers. She has been a profound co-creative presence in opera and cross-artform work, notably with the ELISION Ensemble and her long-standing collaboration with Liza Lim; as well as experimental multi-media opera with Aphids and Chamber Made Opera; in improvised music settings; and in contemporary re-imaginings of early music and particularly, ancient Byzantine Chant in her work with contrabassist and partner Nick Tsiavos as a duo and with Jouissance. Panel members noted the sustained impact of her career both nationally and internationally, not only as an advocate for new music but also her influence on the technique of singing for both performer and composer. She is very much a global phenomenon in the area of contemporary classical music. The high quality of her work, her versality, and the sustained contribution she has made over decades makes Deborah Kayser a true luminary in Australian music today.
WINNER: Luminary Award Organisation (National) - Speak Percussion for visionary leadership and sustained contribution to Australian art music. Formed in 2000, Speak Percussion has been a significant ensemble in the Australian musical landscape for over 20 years. In particular, over the past five years Speak Percussion has been at the forefront of new music worldwide. It has shaped the sound of 21st-century Australian percussion music and has set a new benchmark for the presentation of multi-disciplinary arts projects. Speak Percussion is world-renowned for its experimental and art music output and is a foundational company in the nascent discipline of post-instrumental practice.
Speak Percussion has championed and presented Australian repertoire across the globe. It has also actively supported and nurtured the music sector through a range of professional development, education and community engagement projects. It has provided free opportunities for secondary school students to learn, work and perform alongside world-class art musicians. During Melbourne's protracted COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, Speak Percussion supported 29 independent artists with direct cash support to make work whilst observing social distancing. The panel was impressed with Speak Percussion's international reach and recognition, its high-quality artistic practice, its trail-blazing and cross-disciplinary work, and the sustained impact of its championing Australian music.
WINNER: Luminary Award (NSW) - Ensemble Offspring for its 25th birthday year. Ensemble Offspring turned 25 in 2020. Led by acclaimed percussionist Claire Edwards, and comprising a core line-up of some of Australia's most highly-regarded musicians, Ensemble Offspring continues to unite the most innovative instrumentalists in Australia with a broad collective of collaborators to explore new ideas through living new music. Ensemble Offspring is committed to championing living composers and creating musical experiences that stimulate the senses and pique curiosity. It supports emerging and as-yet unheard composers, in particular championing Australian female-identifying and First Nations artists. Panel members noted the consistently high quality of Ensemble Offspring's performances, the breadth of its repertoire, its commitment to collaboration, and its agility in 2020 in finding new ways to create and present music during the COVID-19 lockdown. Its sustained contribution to Australian music over 25 years, and in particular over the last 5 years, ensures its place as a luminary ensemble in the Australian musical landscape.
WINNER: Luminary Award (Qld) - Alex Raineri for organisation, composition and performance in the Brisbane Music Festival. This Award recognises composer, pianist, and Artistic Director Alex Raineri's contribution to the Queensland music scene. A passionate exponent himself of contemporary music, as Artistic Director of the Brisbane Music Festival for the past three years, Raineri has commissioned numerous works by contemporary Australian composers, both well-known and emerging. Panel members applauded Raineri's commitment to the creation and performance of Australian contemporary music in the Brisbane Music Festival, a sustained contribution not just to Australian music in Queensland, but nationally, through the breadth of composers and performers involved.
WINNER: Luminary Award (SA) - Anne Cawrse for sustained contribution to the new music culture of Adelaide through composition and education. Anne Cawrse completed her PhD in Composition in 2008 at the University of Adelaide, having studied primarily with Graeme Koehne, and has established herself as one of the most performed and loved composers in Adelaide. She has received multiple commissions from the most highly regarded performers, ensembles and orchestras in the state, and composed more than 30 works since 2016. Many of these works have been premiered in Adelaide by South Australian performers. In the field of education, Anne has continued her valuable and important role as music theory lecturer and composition teacher and mentor at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, Adelaide, throughout the period of 2016-2020. Anne is held in the highest of regard by students, who appreciate her down-to-earth nature backed by solid theoretical understanding, an interest in the musical 'now', and her thoughtful and relevant teaching style. Panel members commented on Anne's remarkable work, and the impact she has had on Australian music, particularly in South Australia. They noted that she acts as a mentor for other women composers, as well as acknowledged her sustained contribution to the creation of new works, her strong ongoing relationships with Adelaide's best performers, ensembles and orchestras, and her unfailing commitment to quality music education at the Elder Conservatorium of Music.
WINNER: Luminary Award (TAS) - Stephanie Eslake for her work as an arts journalist and founding editor of CutCommon. Based in Hobart, Stephanie Eslake has been a trailblazer in Australian and international arts, and more specifically music journalism, since 2014. Since establishing the new music magazine CutCommon in 2014, with the aim of rebranding classical music, in the past seven years Stephanie and her team of talented young writers have provided a voice for the less mainstream classical music in Australia. Panel members commented on the huge challenge involved in establishing a new music-specific arts magazine when others are closing down, and the vision, tenacity and courage it takes to do so. Six years on, the national reach of CutCommon is incredibly important; it is a great national initiative. Panel members noted Stephanie Eslake's visionary leadership and fearless trailblazing in establishing CutCommon and its commitment to provided a voice to younger and more emerging composers and performers, who otherwise don't often have an opportunity to be featured in mainstream media.
WINNER: Luminary Award (Vic) - Melbourne Digital Concert Hall for support to Australian artists. Formed in 2020 to support the classical music industry during the COVID-19 crisis, the Melbourne Digital Concert Hall (MDCH) does not strictly meet the requirements of the Luminary Awards, which seeks to honour individuals or organisations who, through sustained contribution (demonstrated over a period 3-5 years prior), have impacted our community on a national or state level. Nonetheless, exceptional circumstances can make for exceptional decisions, and the decision to award the State Luminary Award for Victoria to the Melbourne Digital Concert Hall is indeed that, an exceptional decision due to exceptional circumstances. Melbourne Digital Concert Hall is a social enterprise run by musicians, for musicians. Created by Adele Schonhardt and Chris Howlett, it was conceived to support the classical music industry during the COVID-19 crisis and to provide a means for soloists and small ensembles to continue their profession through ticketed livestreaming. Its impact in 2020 was huge. MDCH presented 238 concerts live in its first nine months, engaged well over 500 Australian musicians in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Brisbane, Darwin, Townsville, Hobart, London, Berlin, Singapore and San Francisco, and generated over $1,000,000 in revenue for the sector while all else was closed. Panel members noted that not only has MDCH become crucial to the financial and emotional wellbeing of Australian musicians; it also hosted a number of world premieres and shone an international spotlight on the work of many Australian composers in 2020. This work is ongoing, with profound implications for the future of Australian art music. MDCH has also tapped into a need far greater than anyone anticipated, with a customer survey showing that more than 25% of ticket buyers live regionally, with 63% rarely attending traditional concerts due to distance, health or caring responsibilities. 81% have indicated that they will continue to watch MDCH post-COVID-19 and many have purchased over 50 performances. To that end, Panel members agreed that Melbourne Digital Concert Hall has offered a shining light to Australian music for the future, the longer-term, and were impressed by the remarkable national impact of this initiative. The panel applauds the vision and creativity of its founders, and due to its significant national impact in a year that was so troubled for the Australian arts, regards Melbourne Digital Concert Hall to be a worthy winner of the Luminary Award for the State of Victoria.
> Art Music Awards (AMC Online) - more information and past winners
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