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14 August 2013

Art Music Awards 2013 - Distinguished Services Award to George Dreyfus

George Dreyfus Image: George Dreyfus  

As part of the 2013 Art Music Awards, APRA AMCOS and the Australian Music Centre are pleased to announce composer George Dreyfus AM as the recipient of the Distinguished Services to Australian Music Award. Determined by the APRA Board of Publisher and Writer Directors, the Award will be presented to Dreyfus at the Awards ceremony on Monday 26 August at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA) Parade Theatre in Sydney. (For a list of all finalists for the 2013 Art Music Awards, announced earlier this month, please see this news article on Resonate. See also this later article about Dreyfus's acceptance speech.)

Composer of operas, symphonies, chamber works, and scores for over 60 film and television productions, George Dreyfus was born in Wuppertal, Germany, in 1928. His Jewish family fled Germany ten years later: George and his brother Richard arrived in Melbourne in 1939 aboard the ship Orama, their parents joining them the following year. The family lived in St Kilda where young George was able to resume his piano lessons, and sang in the synagogue choir.

Melbourne High School and John Bishop's Junior Symphony Orchestra offered more opportunities for the young musician. At the Melba Conservatorium, clarinet gave way to the bassoon.

"The tuition was awful, my instrument was awful and I couldn't do the harmony and counterpoint. I failed! After that I cleaned carpets during the day with my parents for a year, playing in amateur orchestras at night," Dreyfus recalled later. "The Dreyfuses may have been poor migrants, but I had music."

The career setback was temporary, and George Dreyfus got his first paid music job playing bassoon for a touring opera company. He went on to play in musicals and ballet performances at His Majesty's Theatre, until he joined the ABC's Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 1953. A grant enabled him to study at Vienna's Imperial Academy of Music in the mid-1950s. Upon returning to the orchestra, he started to write chamber works for performance by his colleagues. (The very first piece he finished, Trio Op. 1 for flute, clarinet and bassoon won the APRA Music Award for the most performed serious work 30 years later in 1986.)

Like other Australian composers of his generation, Dreyfus discovered European contemporary music in the early 1960s. "My compositions became very serious indeed and tunes were hard to find. Some of the reviewers applauded the change. Some, like the listeners, regretted it. I became Mr New Music of Melbourne."

In the mid-1960s, Dreyfus left the orchestra and went freelance. The busy composer, conductor and organiser of performances was rewarded with grants, fellowships, residencies and commissions. He proved talented at writing music for the emerging film and television industry - most famously composing the theme music for the television series Rush (1974). His film scores include A Steam Train Passes, Dimboola, and The Fringe Dwellers.

In the 1990s premieres of two operas by Dreyfus - Rathenau and Die Marx Sisters - took place in Germany. His children's opera The Takeover (1969), based on the Aboriginal land rights issue, was given its European premiere in Germany in 1997. Recent works include his Symphony No. 3, premiered in 2012, and a Saxophone Quartet (2007).

Commercial recordings of Dreyfus's music include two volumes of film music and The Marvellous World of George Dreyfus 1-2, as well as CDs of works for concert and brass band. A gifted writer of words and a fearless commentator, Dreyfus has also published several books, including an autobiography The Last Frivolous Book (1984), a memoir Don't Ever Let Them Get You (2009) and Brush Off! (2011).

In 1991, George Dreyfus was awarded the Australia Council's Don Banks Fellowship. In 1992 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to music. In 2002 he was awarded the German Bundesverdienstkreuz 1. Klasse (Federal Cross of Merit, 1st Class).

The 2013 Art Music Awards ceremony will be hosted by James Morrison, joined by special guest presenters Lynne Williams, (director and CEO of NIDA), Tony Gould, (composer, pianist and educator), Rupert Myer (chairman of the Australia Council) and Joel Crotty (lecturer in musicology at Monash University). The live performance program will be curated by Genevieve Lacey, featuring music by Sandy Evans (a finalist in multiple categories) with the Nexas Quartet, performing an excerpt from Lachlan Skipworth's dark nebulae (a finalist in the category of Work of the Year: Instrumental), Robin Fox and his critically acclaimed Laser Show, as well as the phenomenal Black Arm Band. A special tribute to George Dreyfus will feature host and multi-instrumentalist James Morrison with his sons William and Harry (playing upright bass and guitar respectively), as well as George Dreyfus's son Jonathan on piano.

[Update 14 August: guest presenters and live performances]

Further links

Art Music Awards (AMC Online)
Art Music Awards - APRA AMCOS

Subjects discussed by this article:

The Australian Music Centre connects people around the world to Australian composers and sound artists. By facilitating the performance, awareness and appreciation of music by these creative artists, it aims to increase their profile and the sustainability of their art form. Established in 1974, the AMC is now the leading provider of information, resources, materials and products relating to Australian new music.


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