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9 September 2016

2016 Art Music Awards finalists - comments by judging panels

Kate Neal (centre) with Semaphore percussionists Matthew Horsley, Madi Chwasta, Rebecca Lloyd-Jones and Hamish Upton Image: Kate Neal (centre) with Semaphore percussionists Matthew Horsley, Madi Chwasta, Rebecca Lloyd-Jones and Hamish Upton  

The following summaries and notes about the 2016 Art Music Awards finalists have been provided by the judging panels. This year, we thank the following people for their dedicated work: Amanda Wojtowicz, Carl Crossin, David Forrest, James Hullick, Jenny Duck-Chong, Jessica Nicholas, Jim Atkins, James Ledger, Jim Nightingale, Johannes Luebbers, John Shand, Kate Neal, Leah Blankendaal, Lisa Cheney, Liza Lim, Lyn Williams, Lynette Irwin, Michael Barkl, Michael Sollis, Peta Williams, Peter McCallum, Phoebe Green, Richard Haynes, Sarah Last, Stephen Leek, Susanne James, Tim Matthies, Toby Wren, Tony Gould, Tos Mahoney, Vanessa Chalker, Victoria Owens and Wilma Smith. A special thank you to Siobhan Lenihan for chairing the Awards panels.

Orchestral Work of the Year

Overall comment: The panel congratulates all entries on the overall skill in handling of the orchestra. The entries showed a lot of imagination and ideas needing the support of Australia's major orchestras. The panel looks forward to seeing the same gender split among the finalists in mainstage performances, so talent may be allowed to develop.

Mary Finsterer: Darkest Light - Clean, clear and consistent, the detail, textures and subtleties of orchestration are strong points in this excellently crafted work.

Elliott Gyger: From Joyous Leaves - This beautiful, well-crafted work, written in affectionate tribute, sustains its structure and repays repeated listening.

Georges Lentz - Jerusalem (after Blake) - Original in concept, this piece by a distinctive compositional voice moves from the apocalyptic to an intimate representation of final moments.

Catherine Milliken: Earth Plays (Winner) - Ambitious, unpredictable and engaging, this piece is at once deep, personal and substantial.

Instrumental Work of the Year

Overall comment: The panel was delighted by the calibre and variety of all entries. The high proportion of strong works by women composers was notable and a credit to the Australian independent classical music scene as a whole. The quality of nominations made the panel's job difficult and demonstrated that Australia is at the forefront of musical innovation globally. The creativity stimulated by partnerships between composers and performers signals the value of investing in these relationships.

Tristan Coelho: read/write error - An exciting piece from a composer to watch. The fascinating combination of sounds and use of rhythm enriches the work's strong character.

Michael Kieran Harvey: Patañjali for two keyboards and percussion - This massive, almost overwhelming, work, embodying the character and voice of its composer, demands the listener engage with it intellectually and emotionally.

Kate Neal: Semaphore (Winner) - In this complex and rewarding work by a distinctive compositional voice, the use of percussion to build the architectural detail of the work's structure, to both physically and thematically integrate the sounds of signaling, is exceptional. The link to Australian military history, and the centenary of the Gallipoli landings, is timely but the success of the work as a piece of art is that it is both thoughtful and restrained in the exploration of this theme.

Natalie Williams: Saudade - From its striking opening to its strong finish, the work has an original sound and individual language. A voice we want to hear more from.

Jazz Work of the Year

Overall comment: The entries provide a wonderful snapshot of the current drive in Australian improvisation and jazz for the ever-expanding integration of diverse idioms, thereby often bridging cultures and finding ways to marry them together into something cohesive.

Paul Grabowsky and Niko Schauble: Spiel - Ebullient and ferocious playing. The telepathy between the musicians enables them to create pithy, intricate improvisations, and play with different genres without resorting to cliché.

Paul Grabowsky/Young Wägilak Group: Nyilipidgi (Winner)- This is a sophisticated, integrated work of range, contrast and drama, in which cultures genially converse, while engendering spellbinding improvisation. The love and respect among the musicians is palpable in the end recording.

Erik Griswold: Water Pushes Sand - This playful and inventive work is the result of many years' study and exploration, skilfully entwining cultures and forging relationships between Chinese and Western musicians.

Mike Nock and Laurence Pike: Beginning And End Of Knowing - A beautiful record creating ghostly sound-worlds via a remarkable use of space and subtle electronics, with intense and varied interaction between two exceptional performers.

Vocal/Choral Work of the Year

Overall comment: The high quality overall of the entries was pleasing, while posing difficulties for the panel. The broad range of works and performers, from opera to vocal ensemble, art song and choral work, school and community groups to professional companies of long standing, is a feast of talent. The panel considered representation of genre as well as compositional merit in its deliberations.

Elliott Gyger: Fly Away Peter - This accomplished chamber opera layers distinctive vocal writing and extraordinary instrumentation for an intense, emotional experience.

Paul Jarman: Malala - A highly successful choral work by a distinctive compositional voice, ideally suited in theme and material to its performers.

Andrew Schultz: Le Molière Imaginaire (Winner) - This clever, witty piece plays with the ancient and modern with originality and flair. A virtuosic work, which immediately engages and amuses its audience.

Andrew Schultz: Paradise, Opus 95, for soprano, cello and piano - The interaction of cello and voice in this chamber song cycle works beautifully and the use of material is imaginative and clear. A small piece with big impact.

Performance of the Year

Overall comment: The best of this category is stunning, and the spectrum massive. A demonstration of how much is happening in Australian new music performance, with many projects exhibiting performances at the forefront of their discipline.

Louise Devenish for Kinabuhi | Kamatayon by Stuart James, Andrián Pertout, Lindsay Vickery, James Hullick, Warren Burt - A great performer tackles an adventurous and demanding program with accuracy and style, and embraces new technology in strange and appealing ways.

Goldner String Quartet for String Quartet No. 3 by Paul Stanhope - This classy, experienced quartet is a great advocate for the work in this polished, immaculate performance.

Semaphore band and dancers for Semaphore by Kate Neal (Winner) - Semaphore is an incredibly demanding work requiring precise, clockwork-like musical and physical performances from all players. Many passages are performed from memory within a theatrical setting. The musical success of this performance was ensured by all collaborators, including director, choreographer and video artist.

Sydney Chamber Opera for Fly Away Peter by Elliott Gyger - Australian opera at the highest level, this convincing performance is visibly and audibly engaging, and the connection of the performers with the work is palpable.

Excellence in Experimental Music

Overall comment: The finalists emerged from a solid field of individuals and organisations, featuring the use of experimental music to connect with communities and operating on several levels. Many works welcome new listeners to the genre and challenge perceptions of what art and culture can be. The panel noted strong entries from amazing women creative artists whose output is consistently underrepresented at all career stages and in many top level artistic programs.

Leah Barclay for WIRA River Listening - A great project, combining use of vernacular media, connection with audience, natural environment into an approachable work expanding the field of acoustic ecology.

Clan Analogue for Intone: Voice Abstractions - The curatorial premise is strong, using the voice as core sonic material in 21 beautifully recorded tracks cataloguing current Australian artists.

Decibel for After Julia program - Celebrating a famous, historical, feminist moment, this fantastic concert of diverse works by women composers and artists expands notation and pushes the use of electronic effects. The panel noted that though this program began in 2014, its touring schedule and therefore contribution to the artistic landscape continued well into 2015.

Speak Percussion for 2015 music program (Winner) - The panel unanimously recognised the diversity of content, willingness to take risks and extend practice, leadership, involvement of many performers and high quality of projects sustained throughout the year.

Excellence in Jazz

Overall comment: The finalists emerged from a strong, diverse field showing the creativity, stylistic variety and sheer quality of Australian jazz. Jazz music and its offshoots in Australia continue to grow in both performance and artistic richness.

Australian Jazz Real Book for Australian Jazz Real Book (Winner) - This rich, overdue digital resource, revealing hidden music to musicians, scholars and music fans has the capacity to elevate Australian jazz and composers globally.

Mark Isaacs for his sustained contribution over four decades, and the 2015 Queensland regional tour - Mark's notable career is distinctive for his music-making at the highest level in multiple genres.

Alister Spence Trio for CD recording Alister Spence Trio: Live - The Trio, through its consistent and continuing contribution to improvisation, exemplifies Australian jazz.

WA Youth Jazz Orchestra for an outstanding 2015 annual program - The Orchestra's rare youth jazz programs, its many commissions and the calibre of its local and international visiting artists make a mark in WA and beyond.

Excellence by an Individual

Overall comment: This was a competitive field of many artists and outstanding projects, important to the development of Australian music. The entries conveyed the exciting landscape of Australian music and tremendous impact artists can have on their communities, and beyond.

Ros Dunlop for her sustained contribution to Australian music for over 30 years - Ros's many achievements in performing, commissioning and recording new music, especially new Australian music, bring delight to audiences all over the world.

Claire Edwardes for performance, advocacy and artistic leadership (Winner) - Claire's advocacy for Australian artists, composers and music, during a challenging period, is inspiring and forceful. That she manages this on top of busy performing, commissioning and artistic leadership activities makes her contribution all the more admirable.

Andrée Greenwell for her work as composer and artistic director of Green Room Music - Andrée encompasses an impressive range of roles - performer, composer, producer - and genres with a sustained and notable contribution to music theatre.

Peter Knight for sustained contribution through composition, performance and leadership - Peter's artistic leadership and drive have taken the Australian Art Orchestra up another gear, making it the force in jazz and improvisation it is today. His Creative Music Intensive is recognised as an important artist development initiative.

Excellence by an organisation

Overall comment: The finalists emerged from a field showing the ever-increasing maturity in the Australian art music world. The level and breadth of activity - regional, national and international, and across such areas as performance, broadcast, education and creative collaborations - include many projects making significant contributions to the promotion of Australian music and audience development through engagement with communities.

Arcko Symphonic Ensemble for 'From Sorrowing Earth': a celebration of Nigel Butterley's 80th birthday - The ambition of this undertaking, conceived as an homage to a giant of Australian music, was successfully realised in a thoughtfully planned and well executed performance.

Ensemble Offspring for 2015 activities & sustained services to Australian music for 20 years (Winner ) - The high quality, creative initiative and commitment to Australian composers have been sustained throughout the long life of this distinguished ensemble.

The Music Show (ABC Radio National) for promotion, discussion and analysis of Australian music over 25 years - Indispensable weekend companion in our kitchens, studios, cars and smartphones, The Music Show's sustained contribution to Australian music is peerless.

Speak Percussion for 2015 program - The panel found impressive the level of activity, the rigour and breadth of the ensemble's approach to commissioning and performing, its new three-year high school program, and its international reach.

Excellence in music education

Overall comment: The panel enjoyed the many innovative projects undertaken by the range of organisations represented. The panel noted in particular the huge development of the field, encompassing high quality and diverse activities.

Artology for Fanfare Competition (Winner) - This outstanding program offers everything to its young participants: mentoring, composition, recording, broadcast and audience, in a systematic and thoughtful process.

Australian Art Orchestra for Creative Music Intensive residency project - A fantastic musical and educational experience for the participants and a great example of the possibilities of the field.

Queensland Music Festival for Cape York Instrumental Program - The great results of this program are testament to perseverance and dedication, bringing music and professional development to remote and disadvantaged schools.

SCEGGS Darlinghurst for Compose 120 Projects - In this terrific program, students contributed to the development of new Australian works, then sang and played the resulting compositions.

Excellence in a regional area

Overall comment: The entries were based on new music that is uniquely Australian, embedded in regional histories, creation stories or the landscape. They were highly competitive with several exhibiting strong claims for an award. Some common approaches included collaboration with regionally based local councils and cultural institutions, community participation in both creation and performance, consultation with Indigenous elders and the use of dance, visual arts or film.

Moorambilla Voices for Moorambilla Voices' 2015 Tenth Anniversary Season (Winner) - This extraordinary organisation engages composers, performers and administrators in a broad program of quality performance in remote NSW. The integration of Indigenous history in the creation of original Australian works is thoughtful and successful.

TURA New Music for the 2015 Reflection Tour - In this highly significant tour to remote WA, Indigenous dancers were distinguished guest artists and collaborators with the TURA ensemble in performances for their local communities.

Queensland Music Festival for Under This Sky - The sheer scale of this undertaking, involving a whole community in creation and performance, made a large and important impression.

Tyalgum Music Festival for the 2015 Tyalgum Music Festival - The involvement of local people and musicians, the range of work and impact on the area are features of the many accomplishments of this esteemed festival.


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