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Penelope Thwaites : Represented Artist

Music has a unique role in lifting spirits and enhancing lives.

Photo of Penelope Thwaites

Born in 1944 in Chester, UK, of Australian parents, Penelope Thwaites returned with her family to Melbourne in 1947. She attended Tintern Girls Grammar School and later took a Bachelor of Music Honours Degree in both performance and teaching at Melbourne University, where she won the Ormond Exhibition, and was placed first in the final examinations. Her final year thesis explored the subject of North Indian classical music (a country she has since toured three times.)

Studies in London with the Swiss pianist, Albert Ferber, led to a successful concert debut at the Wigmore Hall in 1974. This launched an international career across five continents, in the course of which Thwaites has made a point of including Australian compositions in her programs.

She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2001.

The English composer, William Reed (with whom Thwaites studied orchestration), inspired her interest in the music of Percy Grainger. She was Artistic Director of London's first international Grainger Event in 1998 and helped to instigate the first complete recording of Grainger's works - Chandos Records' 25-CD Grainger Edition. She has recorded some 250 tracks of his music, and was awarded the International Percy Grainger Society's Medallion in 1991. She created the highly successful Performing Australian Music Competition in which 71 entrants played programmes representing 46 Australian composers. A second competition in 2008 attracted 94 entrants from 18 countries. Between them, they chose and played the music of 84 Australian composers.

Penelope is the editor of The New Percy Grainger Companion, published by Boydell & Brewer in 2010. She is also artistic director of a 4-day London festival at Kings Place concert halls and the British Library, entitled Celebrating Grainger 2011. Running from February 17-20, it marks 50 years since the death of this amazing Australian composer, pianist and revolutionary thinker with a feast of his music.

From the age of six, Thwaites wrote songs, mostly for friends and family. She did not study composition at university because at the time (1962-5) to produce a recognisable tune was considered highly suspect! After university she worked with a number of musical revues in which she was able to write, arrange, and immediately hear her compositions. She worked with dancers (The Selfish Giant ballet, Vijay's Fable music drama) and wrote for experienced artists such as the American mezzo Muriel Smith and the Australian soprano Roslyn Dunbar.

She has continued to compose songs and instrumental works, most notably A Lambeth Garland (vocal quartet and piano duet/ 2 pianos), Vijay's Fable piano trio, choral settings such as Psalm121, film music and four musicals. The 1976 West End production Ride! Ride! (the Wesley musical with libretto by Alan Thornhill) was released in a new concert version on Somm Recordings in 1999. Recent productions include seasons at the Newtown Theatre in Sydney, Wesley Music Centre, Canberra, Theatre Pitt, Auckland, Greenville, North Carolina, and performances in Yorkshire and Oxford.

Thwaites writes: 'Music has a unique role in lifting spirits and enhancing lives. It can also usefully challenge and unsettle, but with the world as it is, it seems to me that beauty, healing and hopefulness are most needed - and humour!'


Penelope Thwaites — current to October 2010

Awards & Prizes

Year Award Placing Awarded for
2001 Order of Australia Member of the Order For service to music through the performance and promotion of Australian compositions in the United Kingdom and internationally

Selected Commissions

  Work Commission Details
Vijay's fable : piano trio (1994) Commissioned with funds from the Australian Musical Foundation in London by the Triangulus Piano Trio
Lambeth garland : vocal quartet (1987) Commissioned by the Australian Music Foundation, 1987

Analysis & Media

Book: Australian pianists : a cross-section of performers offers insights into aspects of pianism / edited by Martin Comte.

- CD booklet notes: Songs for baritone [Chandos: CHAN 9503]
by Penelope Thwaites