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Don Kay : Represented Artist

Random Audio Sample: Evocations : trio by Don Kay, from the CD Anthology of Australian music


Photo of Don Kay

Don Kay's musical language has its roots in the tradition of Western art music but has been significantly shaped by his experience of Tasmania's environment and history.The process of transforming this experience into musical form involves what he describes as styles of thinking: the use of pure sound in its own right; literal - imitating existing sounds; metaphorical - evocative/suggestive; and abstract - detached from specific meaning.

Tasmania's natural environment has been a major influence in his composition.Weather and landscape, for example, have inspired asymmetrical patterning with short recurring motifs involving subtle shifts and changes.Kay identifies Hastings Bay (1986) as the first mature piece which was a direct, conscious response to a specific personal experience of a specific place, acknowledged by the title. Two works, amongst a number important to him for reflecting this influence, are: Tasmania Symphony - the Legend of Moinee for cello and orchestra (1988), and Piano Trio, The Edge of Remoteness (1996).

Kay is aware that his response to nature is developing into an individualised, personal language which, liberated from literal and metaphorical connections, now permeates his abstract work. Six piano sonatas from 2006 - 2010; Sonata for violin and piano (2009); Aspects of the Vine, for high voice, viola and double bass with text by John Honey (2010); Bird Songs, for high voice, and string quintet or string orchestra with text by John Honey (2010); and an opera in three acts, The Bushranger's Lover, with libretto by John Honey (2012), are representative of his more recent work.

Don Kay was born on January 25th 1933 in Smithton, Tasmania. He was educated at Smithton Primary School, Launceston Church Grammar School and the University of Melbourne where he gained his music degree.He studied composition privately in London with Malcolm Williamson (1959-1964).

Since returning to Hobart in 1964 he has composed much music for professional individuals, ensembles, young performers, amateur groups, theatre, concert and public occasions. His compositions include two one-act operas, a three-act opera, five concertos, three symphonies, vocal, choral and chamber music, including six string quartets. His works have been performed Australia-wide and internationally.

Works to have received special awards include: The Golden Crane (a one-act opera for young people's theatre with libretto by Gwen Harwood); Tasmania Symphony - the Legend of Moinee (for cello and orchestra); and Dance Concertante (for string orchestra).

In 1990 Don Kay was appointed a Member of the General Division of the Order of Australia for his service to the Arts, particularly in the field of composition. In 2003 he was awarded a Centenary Medal for an outstanding contribution to music, music education and composing in Tasmania. In 2010 he was awarded the Clive Lord Memorial Medal by the Royal Society of Tasmania.

Kay retired from the staff of the Tasmanian Conservatorium of Music in 1998 having served as Head of Department from 1990 to 1993. He now composes full-time, but has maintained his association with the Conservatorium as an adjunct professor, and continues to be involved in teaching composition on a casual basis.


Biography provided by the composer — current to June 2013

Awards & Prizes

Year Award Placing Awarded for
1991 Order of Australia Member of the Order For service to the arts, particularly in the field of music composition

Selected Commissions

  Work Commission Details
Digital sheet music sample Dance concertante : for string orchestra (1989) Commissioned by Tasmanian Symphony Chamber Players.
Dance cameos : for mandolin and wind quintet (1986) Commissioned for performance by the Sydney Wind Quintet in March 1987
Songs and interludes from 'The golden crane' : arranged for high voice, clarinet and piano (1984) Written for the Alexandra Ensemble's 1984 Australian tour.
Digital sheet music sample Coolness : for oboe (1974) Commissioned for performance in association with a dance sequence in an interpretation of the haiku Coolness.

Analysis & Media

- Article: Tasmania in music

- Article: Dawn of a new world symphony