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18 August 2015

Roger Smalley (1943-2015)

Roger Smalley Image: Roger Smalley  
© Bridget Elliot - www.bridgetelliot.com

[Updated 21 August - funeral details]

Composer and pianist Roger Smalley AM has died in Sydney on 18 August 2015 at the age of 72.

Smalley was born near Manchester, England, in 1943 and emigrated to Australia in the mid-1970s. His compositions, commissioned by prestigious organisations and groups from the BBC and London Sinfonietta to the Australian Chamber Orchestra, have been performed and broadcast worldwide and released on numerous CDs.

Among his best-known large-scale works are his Symphony (1981, commissioned by the BBC), his first Concerto for Piano and Orchestra; the 1991 work Diptych - Homage to Brian Blanchflower for large orchestra, and Strung Out (1988) for 13 solo strings. Of his recent works, the award-winning Footwork (2006, previously known as Birthday Tango) has received many performances all around Australia and overseas by the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Smalley made an important contribution to the chamber music repertoire, with powerful works such as his Trio for clarinet violin and piano (1992-1997), Crepuscule for piano quartet (1999) and Piano Quintet (2003). His Variations on a Theme of Chopin is a milestone in Australian repertoire for solo piano.

Roger Smalley's career as an academic was closely tied to his activities as a composer and performer: his move from the UK to Australia was the result of a short composer residency at the University of Western Australia. He went on to have a significant academic career at the University, first as a research fellow and subsequently Associate Professor of Music, professiorial Research Fellow and, finally, Emeritus Professor. In 1989, he became the first Artistic Director and conductor of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra's 20th Century Ensemble which he continued to conduct until 2000. He was also often involved with the Perth-based Tura New Music's programs, performing, conducting and in an advisory capacity. Smalley moved from Perth to Sydney in 2007.

Smalley studied piano with Antony Hopkins and composition with Peter Racine Fricker and John White at the Royal College of Music, London. He also took private composition lessons with Alexander Goehr and furthered his studies with Karlheinz Stockhausen at the Cologne Courses for New Music. As a young composer, he was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Prize for his orchestral work Gloria Tibi Trinitas. His above-mentioned Piano Concerto was the recommended work in the annual UNESCO Rostrum of Composers in 1987 and the first time the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's entry made it to the top of the list.

As a pianist, Roger Smalley was widely recognised for his performances of contemporary music. Early in his career, he was a prize-winner in the Gaudeamus competition for interpreters of contemporary music (1966), and received the Harriet Cohen award for contemporary music performance in 1968. In 1969, together with Tim Souster, he formed Intermodulation, an ensemble specialising in works involving improvisation and live electronics, which performed throughout England and Europe until 1976.

In 1991 Smalley was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. In 1994 he was awarded the Australia Council's prestigious Don Banks Fellowship in recognition of his distinguished contribution to Australian music. He received the Australian Government Centenary Medal in 2001 and was proclaimed a Western Australian Living Treasure in 2004. In 2011, Smalley was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).

A funeral celebration of the life of Roger Smalley will take place at Glebe Town Hall on Wednesday 26 August at 4pm.

AMC resources

Roger Smalley - AMC profile (biography, works, recordings, articles)
Roger Smalley - homepage (http://rogersmalley.com)
'Roger Smalley's homage to music' - an article on Resonate by pianist and composer Ian Munro (30 July 2013)
'Writing about Smalley' - an article on Resonate by Dr Christopher Mark (23 April 2012)
'From West to East: Roger Smalley' - an article on Resonate by Mark Coughlan (31 July 2007)

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More about Roger Smalley

I studied composition with Roger Smalley at UWA. On my blog I have a long post about that time, and an ever-growing list of links about Roger.