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14 April 2008

Performing Australian Music Competition

Peter Sculthorpe's <em>Irkanda I</em> was part of the program performed by PAMC winner Marko Pop Ristov Image: Peter Sculthorpe's Irkanda I was part of the program performed by PAMC winner Marko Pop Ristov  
© Bridget Elliot

On Tuesday 8 April 2008 at Australia House in London a gala concert took place featuring the six talented finalists in the Performing Australian Music Competition (PAMC) 2008. The event was attended by Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra, and an invited audience enjoyed spectacular performances delivered with poise and enthusiasm. In welcoming the audience to the event, the Acting High Commissioner, Frances Adamson, read a letter of congratulations from the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.

The six finalists were chosen from 82 performers who auditioned for the competition the previous week at the Royal College of Music. Each entrant presented a 20-minute program of Australian works, along with a work from the standard repertoire in their instrumental category. The standard of performance across all entrants was exceptionally high, with the performers investing considerable efforts in learning new repertoire, and this provided the jury with a significant challenge in identifying the finalists. All entrants should, indeed, be commended for their efforts.

A total of 84 Australian composers’ works were performed in the auditions, presenting a diverse range of musical styles and influences, and covering the spectrum of Australian instrumental and vocal repertoire.

For me, particular highlights from the finalists included:

  • A powerful performance of Peter Sulthorpe’s Irkanda I by Macedonian violinist Marko Pop Ristov, capturing not only the composer’s musical intentions in the score, but expressing in a masterly way the spirit of loneliness experienced in the vast Australian landscape;
  • A sensitive and wonderfully controlled performance of Brenton Broadstock’s Aureole by Scottish flutist Yvonne Paterson, capturing in sound the image of a halo of light, which employed piano strings resonating with the notes of the flute line;
  • A seductive performance of works by Ross Edwards and Phillip Houghton presented by Australian guitarist Jacob Cordover, whose delicate tone and sensitive interpretations invited my ears to experience the technical strength and accuracy of his playing;
  • A highly accomplished presentation by Australian pianist Eleanor Smith, whose performances of works by Margaret Sutherland and Carl Vine revealed the virtuosic compositional craft and skill of these prominent Australian composers, and convincingly communicated the strength of these works with her own virtuosity and musicality;
  • The charming and seductive performance of Australian songs delivered by Australian soprano Elena Xanthoudakis, whose effectively constructed characterisations and dramatic stage presence did not detract from the purity and clarity of her voice;
  • The well-constructed program presented by Chinese cellist Mi Zhou, connecting Julian Yu’s reworking of musical material from J.S Bach in Dovetailing, alongside a work from the master himself. Her powerful rendering of Don Kay’s The Legend of Moinee was indeed impressive, delivering a profound and passionate performance.

There are many other highlights to recall from the many fine performances in the audition rounds which will stay in my memory, too numerous to list here. Above all, I retain a vivid picture of amazingly talented young performers, passionate and committed, with accomplished technical skill and musicality, investing a great deal of hard work to ensure that their performances are as good as they can possibly be.

The significant outcomes from this competition are many and varied. Firstly, from the performers’ perspectives, the discovery of new repertoire that many will continue to perform for some time to come, and the opportunity to compete with their peers at the highest possible level; secondly, for the composers featured in the competition, the opportunity for their works to be presented in the competition and beyond; for the audience, an experience of witnessing outstanding young talents presenting themselves with confidence, enthusiasm and passion, and outstanding musicianship.

The competition was only made possible with the contributions of many people and organisations, above all, the competition’s Chair, Penelope Thwaites, whose vision and passion ensured the competition’s success. Its ongoing sustainability however is threatened, and it can only continue if significant financial support is secured. Given the success of the two competitions to date, its demise would indeed be tragic.

PAMC Prize-winners

First Prize (£5000, donated by Heather de Haes)

Marko Pop Ristov - violin (Macedonia)
Program: Irkanda I by Peter Sculthorpe; In Father’s Orchard by Sadie Harrison; and Sonatensatz by Brahms

Second Prize (£4000, donated by Michael Kelson)

Yvonne Paterson - flute (Scotland)
 Program: Aureole by Brenton Broadstock; Nura (3rd Movt: Earth Dance) by Ross Edwards; Sonata (2nd Movt) by Poulenc

Kelson Encouragement Award (£3000, donated by Michael Kelson)

Jacob Cordover - guitar (Australia)
Program: Blackwattle Caprices by Ross Edwards; Stele and Dervish by Phillip Houghton; Prelude from Suite BWV 997 by JS Bach

The Tait Prize (£1000, donated by the Tait Memorial Trust)

Elena Xanthoudakis - soprano (Australia)
Program: The Presences by Ron McKenzie; Come Sleep by Peggy Glanville-Hicks; O Deep & Dewy Hour by Horace Keats; selected Cabaret Songs by Keith Humble; The Sprig of Thyme by Percy Grainger; Piangero, La Sortemia, by GF Handel

AMF Audience Prize (£1000, donated by the Australian Music Foundation)

Eleanor Smith - piano (Australia)
Program: Chiaroscuro 2 by Margaret Sutherland; Piano Sonata 2 (2nd movt) by Carl Vine; Feux D’Artifice by Debussy

The Becker Prize (£500, donated by Russell Becker)

Eleanor Smith - piano (Australia)
Program: Chiaroscuro 2 by Margaret Sutherland; Piano Sonata 2 (2nd movt) by Carl Vine; Feux D’Artifice by Debussy

The Faber Prize  (music to the value of £500, donated by Faber Music)

Mi Zhou - cello (China)
Program: Dovetailing by Julian Yu; The Legend of Moinee (2nd movement) by Don Kay; and Prelude from Cello Suite No 5 by JS Bach

Further Links

John Davis is CEO of the Australian Music Centre


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Another response to the PAMC

I was in the audience of the PAMC in London, and endorse John Davis's remarks about the high standard of performance that all the finalists displayed. It was great to hear Oz music so well performed to an enthusiastic audience. One criticism I did have, which made me diverge a bit from the judging, was that not all the finalists came up with a well-integrated program of pieces which had some connection and yet plenty of contrast. I do feel that good program planning is a very important part of any performance! The flautist and cellist both presented programs which made interesting connections between the Oz pieces and the traditional pieces. The violinist who won 1st prize, on the other hand, did not. His performance of Sculthorpe was absolutely superb. But he ended the program with Brahms, which made no connection at all. Worse than that, I felt that there was a perceptible feeling of relief - whew, I've got the modern pieces out of the way, now I can play something from my core repetoire that I have been practising for years. Perhaps I am being unfair to an excellent young man. But perhaps the judges could have given greater weight to the actual selection of pieces and how they "worked" together.