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13 September 2007

New Music Celebrations!

2007 Classical Music Awards

New Music Celebrations!

One couldn’t help but notice the strong presence of outstanding percussionists amongst this year’s list of winners at the 2007 Classical Music Awards held last night at the Sydney Theatre, Walsh Bay. It seems that Australia is in no shortage of such instrumentalists. And with such gifted players it makes sense that composers would seek to exploit their virtuosity and the infinite timbres and sonic possibilities that percussion instruments bring.

Nigel Westlake is one such composer. For the 2007 Classical Music Awards panel of judges, Rebecca Lagos’s interpretation of Westlake’s When the Clock Strikes Me was one performance from last year that stood out more than others. Her 'radiant and incisive' delivery of this piece won her the prestigious award for ‘Best Performance of an Australian Composition’.

Commissioned by Symphony Australia, the work was premiered by Rebecca with the Sydney Symphony under the baton of Richard Gill. The work – inspired by a poem of American poet/musician/actor Saul Williams – is in two movements dominated by the xylophone and marimba respectively. Having developed a strong reputation for her mallet playing as principal percussionist with the Sydney Symphony, Rebecca’s impeccable technique was well-suited to the manic energy and cheeky virtuosic passages throughout the work.

Of course working as an orchestral musician isn’t the only path a percussionist can take. Percussionist Claire Edwardes – known for her ‘strong, personal interpretation and exciting presentation’ – has built up a successful career as a freelance musician, having performed throughout the world with groups such as Synergy Percussion, Asko/Schönberg Ensemble, and Ensemble Modern. But it is her sustained commitment to Australian composition that won her the 2007 Outstanding Contribution by an Individual. The Award celebrates the Duyfken Project, where she toured Australia last year with Dutch percussionist Niels Meliefste as part of Duo Vertigo exposing audiences across Australia – through workshops and performances – to new works commissioned by composers both nationally and internationally. As Claire said last night, the project (supported by Stichting Gaudeamus) highlighted the 'necessity of cross-cultural collaboration in our art form'.

The theme of percussion continued into the night with percussionist Ian Cleworth collecting the award for ‘Long-Term Contribution to the Advancement of Australian Music’ along with the State Award for NSW. One of Australia’s best-known percussionists, Ian has been extremely influential in commissioning and presenting new Australian percussion repertoire. For Ian, 'performances are ephemeral – they come and go'; the real highlight is 'the growing sense of the gratitude for the oppotunities that have been given to [him]'. To this end, Ian paid tribute to the other finalists in this category for the influence they have had on his creative development. Awards guests and listeners to the live broadcast on ABC Classic FM were greatly impressed by Taikoz’s performance of Shinju-Pearl: Part I , a work Ian wrote for Synergy Percussion's 30th anniversary in 2004.

Roger Smalley’s performance of the first movement of Gamelan, No.1 of his Three Studies in Black and White, was another highlight of the evening. His more recent Birthday Tango – originally commissioned by Barbara Blackman to celebrate the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s 30th birthday – won him the prestigious 'Best Composition by an Australian Composer' Award. A rich exploration of harmony coalesces with the lyricism of the violin and a subtle bending of the well-known tango rhythm – delicately pushing the boundaries of the tango form to new grounds. As one judge commented: ‘it’s a memorable work by a master composer’.

With over 190 albums featuring more than 500 world premiere recordings under her CD label Tall Poppies, Belinda Webster was certainly a strong contestant to win the 2007 Award for 'Distinguished Services to Australian Music'. Her commitment to Australian music is phenomenal, especially when you consider the difficult path she has chosen. Yet despite the ‘hardship, turmoil and trauma’, her successful venture has seen Australian music distributed in seven different countries, while Tall Poppies has itself commissioned 50 new works by Australian composers.

When it comes to new music concerts, repeat performances of creative works are rare. So the Work of the Year Awards, assessed by APRA purely on the basis of performance activities, bring much honour. Composer Liza Lim won the 'Orchestral Work of the Year' Award for Flying Banner (After Wang To) , while Ross Edwards (Piano Trio) and Sarah Hopkins (May You Dance) picked up the Works of the Year awards for instrumental and vocal/choral works respectively.

Other winners include: the 2006 Aurora Festival of New Music for their outstanding contribution as an organisation, 2006 Camden Haven Music Festival for their outstanding contribution in a regional area, and the Australian Youth Orchestra and Australian Ballet, which jointly won the 'Outstanding Contribution in Education' Award for their 2006 National Music Camp Composition Program Body Torque.

State Awards were also given to the best nomination in each state. Winners were Queensland Youth Symphony (Qld), Utrecht String Quartet (Vic), David Malone (Tas), Tristram Cary (SA), and Iain Grandage (WA).

Presented annually by the Australian Music Centre and APRA, the Classical Music Awards are a chance to celebrate the thriving talent and artistic excellence in our music community. The contribution of those who consume, support, and create new music is generally made against the continual pressures of inadequate funding and political support, and little acknowledgement for their efforts. Yet, despite this, new music is flourishing. As the AMC CEO John Davis remarked, these awards give us a ‘small glimpse of just some of the quality and diversity and vitality of the Australian classical music scene’.

For more information about the 2007 Classical Music Awards visit the Australian Music Centre’s website: www.amcoz.com.au/projects/awards/awards2007.htm


Danielle Carey is a musicologist, writer, and musician. A graduate from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, she writes for various national music publications and is editor of resonate - the Australian Music Centre's new web magazine.


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