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24 August 2017

2017 Art Music Awards finalists: comments by judging panels

Bruce & Jocelyn Wolfe, awarded for the Piano Mill project (together with Clocked Out). The standard of nominations for the Excellence for Experimental Music category in 2017 was impressive. Image: Bruce & Jocelyn Wolfe, awarded for the Piano Mill project (together with Clocked Out). The standard of nominations for the Excellence for Experimental Music category in 2017 was impressive.  
© Tony Mott

The following summaries and notes about the 2017 Art Music Awards finalists have been provided by the judging panels. We thank the following people for their dedicated work in judging the nominations: Alex Raineri, Alexander Hunter, Cat Hope, Cathy Applegate, Chris Cody, Damien Ricketson, Gian Slater, Hannah Reardon-Smith, Harriet Cunningham, Jane Sheldon, Jula Szuster, Katy Abbott, Leah Barclay, Linda Kouvaras, Louise Devenish, Lynette Irwin, Mace Francis, Mark Coughlan, Mary-Jane Whitehead, Matthew Lorenzon, Matthew Wood, Michael Barkl, Natalie Williams, Nick Vines, Nicole Canham, Nicole Murphy, Nigel Westlake, Raff Wilson, Robert Burke, Ros McMillan, Sarah Penicka-Smith, Susanne James and Warren Burt.

A very special thank you goes to Siobhan Lenihan for chairing the panels.

Vocal / Choral Work of the Year

Overall comment: A fascinating group of works by accomplished and emerging composers, demonstrating the range and quality of Australian writing for voices. A very strong field of compositions.

Paul Stanhope: Agnus Dei (Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep) - A significant contribution to Australian choral repertoire. Brilliantly combines two familiar texts, enhancing both. An effective, moving and sophisticated work.

Kate Neal: Permission to Speak, with text by Tamara Saulwick - Inventive use of natural speech, with its awkward pace and rhythms embraced fully. The use of authentic testimony creates real tension and leads the listener to a very personal response. Australian stories told in an original and striking way.

Liza Lim: Tree of Codes (winner) - A true Gesamtkunstwerk. Every element is rendered with tremendous care; electronics are integrated very finely into the work; the role of birdsong is particularly striking, both in the use of field recordings of Australian bellbirds and also in the vocal writing itself. The orchestration creates an exquisite array of colour and the arias are beautiful and inventive. The interplay of the staging and music is imaginative and rich, and results in a very moving work. A work very likely to receive ongoing international exposure.

Katie Noonan, Paul Dean, Andrew Ford, Paul Grabowsky, Iain Grandage, David Hirschfelder, Elena Kats-Chernin, John Rodgers, Richard Tognetti and Carl Vine: With Love and Fury - This cycle, written for the unique voice of the interpreter, is brought to life by her. The cycle is a celebration of one of Australia's most progressive poets and a superb melding of creative minds from Australia and the UK. Noonan's careful selection of composers, and their willingness to exploit her particular abilities, lend the work a cohesiveness rarely found in composite works.

Jazz Work of the Year

Overall comment: The panel commented that the entries include a number of very serious jazz composers writing impressive, challenging music for high-calibre ensembles. The field demonstrates that the driving creative force in Australian jazz is new music, with a particular strength in synthesising complex musical concepts and multicultural elements to a highly nuanced effect.

Eugene Ball: Intrusions - The use of texture, building over time, with the skilled scoring and signalling of improvisation, make this a mature and strong work. The disjointed elements work well together texturally, rhythmically and structurally.

Paul Grabowsky: Moons of Jupiter - Paul's deep compositional language, great integration of improvisation and use of diverse sonic material make this a complex and fascinating work.

Tom O'Halloran: Now Noise (winner)- This fresh and thoughtful work is epic in scale, demonstrating outstanding compositional craft, many interesting, subtle and well-executed ideas. Now Noise reveals Tom's deep listening of many styles of music synthesised into one skilled new work. A great vehicle for the excellent ensemble.

Andrea Keller: Still Night - A beautiful and personal work, strong compositionally and an ambitious project for Andrea, who is continually broadening her skills and pursuing ideas that aim to comment and contribute to community.

Instrumental Work of the Year

Overall comment: The standard and sophistication of the field increases every year. An exciting range of strong pieces, rewarding to listen to and showing a sizable diversity and range of instrumentation.

Austin Buckett: Aisles - The composer manages the length of this conceptually strong piece skilfully. The aural hallucinations create a striking and persuasive effect.

Peter Knight: Diomira - Vividly fresh, with all elements contributing to the minimalist idiom of this work.

Liza Lim: How Forests Think (winner) - A work of epic scale, displaying a staggering level of invention in form and instrumental interplay and colour. Demarcation lines dissolve between Chinese and other instruments, with the sense of a whole new ecology of sound coming into being.

Jessica Wells: Moon Fire - An attractive and engaging piece, skilfully composed for unusual instrumentation.

Orchestral Work of the Year

Overall comment: The individuality and skill of the compositional voices made judging difficult. The panel noted accomplished younger voices in the field who will soon be among the finalists. The panel noted that narrowness of the field and number of overseas performances may signal a lack of opportunities in Australian orchestras.

Ross Edwards: Frog and Star Cycle: double concerto for alto saxophone, percussion and orchestra - An original, well-structured and coherent work by a mature voice. A great example of a piece written for a specific performer.

Andrew Ford: Raga for electric guitar and orchestra - The panel enjoyed this work, in particular the use of guitar, improvisation and elements of Indian music.

Lyle Chan: Serenade for Tenor, Saxophone and Orchestra ('My Dear Benjamin') (winner) - Beautifully scored for orchestra, with sensitivity and understanding of the subject material and of writing for voice. The spare text is given a lyrical setting. An impressive work.

Elena Kats-Chernin: The Witching Hour - A typically rhythmic, harmonically visceral work with sophisticated orchestration and compelling dramatic structure.

Performance of the Year

Overall comment: The panel commented on the impressive field of nominees, which included high-quality performances by a diverse range of artists. It was truly a pleasure to have the task of listening to so many dedicated performances of Australian music from both within Australia and abroad.

Adelaide Chamber Singers for the performance of Agnus Dei (Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep) by Paul Stanhope - An elegant, seamless performance, technically superb with a great sense of freedom. The demands of solo and ensemble singing are handled with sophistication and emotional warmth.

Benjamin Beilman and Andrew Tyson for their performance of Cerulean Orbits by Jane Stanley - Tight, intimate and engaging, with great playing by the duo.

Michael Kieran Harvey for his performance of the Piano Concerto by Yitzhak Yedid - Michael's performance is immediately commanding, technically brilliant, intense and gripping from start to finish and ably supported by the ensemble and conductor.

Peter de Jager for his performance of the Piano Sonata by Chris Dench (winner) - Peter's virtuosic performance is at one with the expressive gesture of the music and assured in its technical command of this complex work. His sustained control enables subtlety of sound and variety of colour.

Award for Excellence by an Organisation

Overall comment: A strong field demonstrating breadth and individuality. The finalists carefully evidenced their bold, inventive programs, support for commissioning and performing new music, wide reach and vibrant cross-disciplinary collaborations. A difficult decision.

Speak Percussion for their 2016 program and sustained contribution to Australian music (winner) - For their great vision, fully realised in a sustained, innovative and entertaining program of concerts, commissioning, education, professional development, and professional collaboration.

Synergy & Taikoz Limited for activities and achievements of the two new music ensembles Synergy Percussion and Taikoz - For decades of excellent commissioning, concerts, tours, collaborations, impact and sustained influence on Australian music and performance.

Tura New Music for their 2016 program and sustained contribution to Australian music for over 30 years - In 30 years of commissioning and performing Australian new music and sonic arts, Tura has provided education, sensory and intellectual enrichment nationally and internationally, contributing to Western Australia's cultural identity. The ARC funded archival research project is an important initiative.

Zephyr Quartet for performances, collaborations, commissions and recordings in 2016 - A dynamic, creative and socially conscious program using multi-media, reaching audiences in concert and theatre and exciting them about the form.

Award for Excellence by an Individual

Overall comment: This was a competitive, diverse field that reflected the significant role individual artists play in cultural leadership through music. The panel believes the winner and finalists reflect attributes that are vital to the art music sector: leadership, artistic vision, determination, generosity of spirit, advocacy and outstanding collaborative skills.

Cat Hope for performance, academia, composition, mentoring and advocacy - As well as being a unique artist working in many fields, Cat is a generous and active mentor of younger artists. She gives freely of her skills, advice and wisdom and is a tireless advocate for Australian music here and overseas.

Daryl Buckley for over 30 years of contribution to the international projection of Australian contemporary performance, ideas and practice (winner) - Daryl's positioning of Australian artists internationally, especially ELISION, and his role in establishing the Judith Wright Centre as a multi-disciplinary, experimental space are among the many achievements that demonstrate his wide-reaching impact on Australian music.

David Bridie for the music project, a Bit na Ta - David has built trust with the Tolai people of Papua New Guinea over decades, and the scale and success of this project is one result of this rare, true collaboration. David enables the Tolai to tell the real stories, explore their beauty and bring back to our country the important link we have with PNG.

Tos Mahoney for his work with new music in Western Australia in 2016 - Tos is the engine of new music in Western Australia. He has pulled together, in the remotest areas, experimental, improvised, jazz, pop, country and rock music with sound art and education to create extraordinary concerts, projects and experiences for both audiences and participants.

Award for Excellence in Music Education

Overall comment: The strong field of annual programs and significant projects provides much-needed exposure to and involvement in vocal and instrumental performance and composition for all ages from school to adult. The panel was pleased to note the continuing development of several organisations in the category.

Goulburn Regional Conservatorium, Canberra Symphony Orchestra and University of Canberra for 'The Goulburn Concerto' - 'The Goulburn Concerto' emerged from an in-school music program for every student in Grade 3-5 at a significantly disadvantaged primary school in regional Australia. The Concerto project has an enduring legacy in the creation of a work that beginner and advanced musicians perform as equals on the one stage.

Moorambilla Voices for their 2016 season (winner) - Through rich engagement with the creative process, to which they are integral, students in isolated NSW encounter art music as a living form that can express their own experiences, and develop their understanding of sophisticated musical ideas, forms and techniques. This process culminates in performance alongside distinguished professional ensembles for regional audiences who may be encountering art music for the first time.

Sydney Symphony Orchestra for their annual teacher-training program, TunED-Up! - Participation in TunED-Up! enables teachers to develop their musical experience, teaching and classroom practice including use of digital resources, and instrumental knowledge. In an intensive week of workshops with SSO musicians and music education specialists, teachers learn to build their skills, and most importantly, their confidence, to teach music to their students.

West Australian Symphony Orchestra for their 2016 education program - WASO's extensive education and community engagement programs strive to offer people of all ages and abilities the opportunity to enjoy music in their lives, and provide a lifelong journey of learning. WASO's activities span students from kindergarten to year 12, young and emerging artists, students in regional centres, those with special educational needs, children in hospital, and adult amateur musicians.

Award for Excellence in a Regional Area

Overall comment: The panel commented on the substantial and lasting impact made by many of the entries on local areas.

Four Winds for their 2016 Easter Festival - Making full use of the exquisite bushland amphitheatre, the 2016 festival presented fine Australian and visiting artists performing many Australian works in a diverse and successful program.

Ngarukuruwala for Ngiya awungarra (I Am Here, Now), ethnographic recordings of Tiwi song material - A bold and daring project, built on relationships and trust developed over a long time. The grit between the musical styles creates something brand new with intriguing possibilities.

Primal Dance Company for modern dance work, Footmarks - The quality of the compositions [by Ian Munro, John Nottle and Chris Sainsbury] is outstanding and the use of topography relevant to the region. The project was widely accessible to the local population and a substantial achievement in a regional area.

Tura New Music for their 2016 Regional Program (winner) A year-long festival, outstanding for its professionalism, vast distances covered, use of the local environment and for leaving resources and experiences in the communities with which it engaged.

Award for Excellence in Experimental Music

Overall comment: The panel was impressed with the quality of current experimental practice in Australia as demonstrated by this substantial and diverse field. The panel especially noted activities which are expanding the methods of realisation and dissemination including virtual dissemination, interdisciplinary possibilities and relevance to the current world. The field is alive and thriving.

Clocked Out with Bruce and Jocelyn Wolfe for 'The Piano Mill' Project (winner) - An innovative realisation that highlights the interdisciplinary possibilities of experimental music in combining architecture, acoustic ecology and instrument-making in an immersive experience of musical accidents, performances and installations responding to place.

JOLT Arts for 'The Book of Daughters' mini-festival - Not only a project of innovative music but also socially responsible, engaging in a dialectic way and discussing issues in eclectic, engaging music. The spread of presenters, from the little-known to stellar, added to the achievement.

Matthias Schack-Arnott for his percussion duo, Anicca - A fantastic conception; a fresh and original piece showing where novelty is occurring in instrument-making. The sonic characteristics of the work complete an interesting and beautiful realisation.

Robert Curgenven for Climata, a performance, installation and recording project - The sheer ambition from concept and labour required for realisation to the multi-faceted nature of this project are impressive enough. The cogent sonic aesthetic of the presentation and expanding possibility of sound art in public places challenges audiences to think in a different way.

Award for Excellence in Jazz

Overall comment: The judges agreed that top entries in this category stood out from a strong field for the range of their activities, sustained over time, and the quality of their nominations.

Andrea Keller for the creation, presentation and release of contemporary jazz in 2016 (winner) - Andrea Keller Quartet album, Transient Trios, Transient Tuesday nights at Bennetts Lane, appearances at Wangaratta Jazz Festival, Women's Jazz Festival, Melbourne Jazz Festival, her Still Night cycle - a very good, prolific year. Overall, she is an inspiring and good role model, with a rich, diverse and prolific output for 2016 and sustained creative projects built over many years.

Daniel Susnjar for Afro-Peruvian Jazz musical activities including album Moth to a Flame and Australian / US touring - Interesting blend of Latin, Peruvian and jazz styles, with very high technical and production levels.

Ross McHenry for the album Child of Somebody and various performances - Well-arranged psychedelic jazz funk, with interesting use of rhythms, instrumentation, textures, effects, and styles.

Stu Hunter for the recording, world premiere and national tour of The Migration - There is a belief, identity, individuality and conviction running through Stu Hunter's music, coupled with a high standard of playing, original arrangements and breadth of composition with a very diverse and broad range of musical influences that all come together successfully to create his own musical world.


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