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22 October 2019

Nigel Westlake and Katy Abbott winners of the 2019 Paul Lowin Prizes

Nigel Westlake giving his acceptance speech - he dedicated his award to judge and philanthropist Jane Mathews AO (1940-2019), who commissioned the winning work. Image: Nigel Westlake giving his acceptance speech - he dedicated his award to judge and philanthropist Jane Mathews AO (1940-2019), who commissioned the winning work.  

Composers Katy Abbott and Nigel Westlake have been announced as winners of the 2019 Paul Lowin Prizes in a ceremony at the Melbourne Recital Centre on the evening of Tuesday 22 October.

Nigel Westlake took home the coveted $25,000 Paul Lowin Orchestral Prize for his work Spirit of the Wild - Concerto for Oboe (2016), while Katy Abbott's Hidden Thoughts 1 (2017) for six voices and mixed instrumental media won the $15,000 Song Cycle Prize.

The entire prize ceremony, followed by the 2019 Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address by Deborah Cheetham AO, is available for watching on the AMC's website.

Katy Abbott's large-scale work is the first composition in her series of festival pieces for The Song Company and Syzygy Ensemble. Commissioned with funds provided by the Australia Council for the Arts, Hidden Thoughts 1 sets to music 'secret thoughts' by anonymous women. This is the first time this Melbourne-based composer has been shortlisted for the Lowin Prizes.

The jury said about Hidden Thoughts 1,

This uniquely Australian work has an innovative and beautifully nuanced score with the compelling text always shining through. The composer shows an excellent technical understanding for each voice type with voiceless interludes focusing the narrative and establishing a wonderful emotional connection for the listener. [...] an inclusive and interactive work for the audience.

Hidden thoughts is available for listening online as an ABC podcast. Abbott's family accepted the Prize due to the composer being currently overseas.

Nigel Westlake's Spirit of the Wild was written for oboist Diana Doherty and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, commissioned with funds provided by Jane Mathews AO (1940-2019) and Symphony Services International. Westlake has won the Paul Lowin Orchestral Prize previously in 2013.

The 2019 Paul Lowin Jury was impressed with his engaging and idiomatic writing for the oboe, and the rich orchestral texture of the concerto:

…effectively written and beautifully paced, with the oboe line expertly supported by the orchestra and the orchestration. This captivating work was the clear winner for the judges, transporting the listener for the full 20 minutes, transcending technicality and going straight to the heart - a temporal experience.

Spirit of the Wild has been released on CD by ABC Classics (purchase from the AMC Shop) and is widely for streaming and download, including on Youtube.

Close to 100 original works of music competed for the Paul Lowin Prizes in 2019, with entries reflecting the rich spectrum of artistic expression by composers today. The other finalist composers were Brett Dean and Lachlan Skipworth for the Orchestral Prize, and Elliott Gyger and Luke Styles for the Song Cycle Prize. All finalist works can be said to represent the very best of Australian orchestral and song cycle composition over the past three years - since the awarding of the previous Lowin Prizes in 2016.

2019 Paul Lowin Prizes

Paul Lowin Orchestral Prize ($25,000)

Winner: Nigel Westlake: Spirit of the Wild: Concerto for Oboe (2016)

Highly commended: Brett Dean: Cello Concerto (2018) for cello and orchestra

Highly commended: Lachlan Skipworth: Spiritus (2017) for symphony orchestra

Song Cycle Prize ($15,000)

Winner: Katy Abbott: Hidden Thoughts 1 (2017) for six voices (2 sopranos, alto, tenor, baritone, bass) and mixed instrumental sextet. Text by anonymous contributors.

Highly commended: Elliott Gyger: This Kind of Life - a culinary correspondence (2018) for soprano, mezzo-soprano, clarinet, cello, harp, piano. A setting of correspondence between celebrated chef Julia Child and her friend Avis DeVoto.

Highly commended: Luke Styles: On Bunyah (2018) for tenor, string quartet and piano. Settings of 10 poems by Les Murray.

History of the Paul Lowin Prizes

Paul Lowin was born in 1893 in Czechoslovakia, and lived in Austria in the 1930s before settling in Australia in 1939. He lived in Australia for two decades before returning to Vienna, where he died in 1961. He left a hand-written will which indicated his wish to establish a competition for works by living Australian composers in a 'modern but not too modern' style. Because of the lack of clarity in the will, there ensued a thirty-year sustained effort by the executors of his estate to establish a viable competition for composers. The competition was initially held every three years between 1991-97, and since then every 2-3 years.

The Paul Lowin Prizes are managed by Perpetual, as trustee for The Paul Lowin Trust, and presented in collaboration with the Australian Music Centre.

This year, the winning works and composers were announced in conjunction with the annual Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address, delivered by Deborah Cheetham AO.

> Previous winners and further information (AMC Online)

> Streaming video of the Lowin Prize ceremony, followed by the 2019 Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address (AMC Online - Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address)

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