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Deborah Cheetham Fraillon : Represented Artist

Music is my way of knowing the world and giving meaning to everything in it.

Random Audio Sample: Eumeralla, a war requiem for peace (multiple choirs with full orchestra) by Deborah Cheetham Fraillon, from the CD Women of Note

Photo of Deborah Cheetham Fraillon

Photo: Kristina Kingston

Deborah Cheetham Fraillon AO, Yorta Yorta woman, soprano, composer and educator has been a leader and pioneer in the Australian arts landscape for more than 25 years. In the 2014 Queen's Birthday Honours List, Cheetham was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), for 'distinguished service to the performing arts as an opera singer, composer and artistic director, to the development of Indigenous artists, and to innovation in performance'.

In 2009, Deborah Cheetham Fraillon established Short Black Opera as a national not-for-profit opera company devoted to the development of Indigenous singers. The following year she produced the premiere of her first opera Pecan Summer. This landmark work was Australia's first Indigenous opera and has been a vehicle for the development of a new generation of Indigenous opera singers.

In March 2015 she was inducted onto the Honour Roll of Women in Victoria and in April 2018 received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of South Australia for her pioneering work and achievements in the music. In 2019 Deborah Cheetham received the Merlyn Myer Prize to create a new work for the Melbourne based ensemble Syzygy.

In 2019 Deborah Cheetham Fraillon AO established the One Day in January project designed to develop and nurture Indigenous orchestral musicians. In this same year she received the Sir Bernard Heinze Memorial Award for service to music in Australia, the Merlyn Myer Prize for Composition, was inducted onto the Victorian Aboriginal Honour Roll and received Life Time Membership at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

In 2020 Deborah Cheetham Fraillon AO was the Composer in Residence for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and commenced her appointment at the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music, Monash University as Professor of Music practice.

In 2021 Cheetham Fraillon began a five year appointment as MSO First Nations Creative Chair.

Deborah Cheetham Fraillon AO was the 2020 recipient of the JC Williamson Life Time Achievement Award which recognises an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the Australian live entertainment and performing arts industry, and helped to shape the future of our industry for the better.

Cheetham Fraillon's list of commissions for major Australian ensembles continues to grow, including works for the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Australian String Quartet, West Australian Symphony Orchestra String Quartet, Rubiks Collective, Plexus Ensemble, Flinders Quartet and the Goldner Quartet.

Major compositions

  • Pecan Summer, Yorta Yorta and English. Australia's first Aboriginal opera. On-country premiere 2010
  • Eumeralla, a war requiem for peace. Large scale work for soloists, choirs and orchestra. Sung in the language of the Gunditjmara people. Australia's first resistance-war commemoration for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal performers. On-country premiere October 14, 2019 Port Fairy Spring Festival.
  • MPavilion Acknowledgment to Country Series, Boon Wurrung language. Commission for the Naomi Milgrom Foundation to inaugurate a summer cycle of cross art-form programming. Since 2014 (continuing)
  • Dhungala Choral Connection Song Book, various languages
  • Ancient Land Processional, Kaurna, Boandik and Barngarla languages. Commission for the University of South Australia. Recorded by Adelaide Symphony Orchestra 2018
  • Woven Song Embassy Tapestry Series. Singapore, Dehli, Tokyo, Paris, Rome, The Holy See, Washington, Dublin, Beijing
  • Beneath the Wings of Bunjil. Commission for the City of Casey 2018 opening of Bunjil Place.
  • Tarami Nulay, Gadigal and English. Commission for St Andrews Cathedral School 2017
  • Eternal Birrarung. Commission for the City of Melbourne upon the restoration of the Federation Bells 2013
  • Dali Mana Gamarada, Gadigal language. Commission for the Opening Ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

Deborah Cheetham — current to February 2023

Awards & Prizes

Year Award Placing Awarded for
2023 Don Banks Music Award Recipient
2022 Art Music Awards: Work of the Year: Dramatic Finalist Parrwang lifts the sky
2019 Melbourne Prize for Music Winner - New Melbourne Prize for Music 2019
2014 Order of Australia Officer of the Order of Australia For distinguished service to the performing arts as an opera singer, composer and artistic director, to the development of Indigenous artists, and to innovation in performance.

Selected Commissions

  Work Commission Details
Dali Mana Gamarada (sa choir with solo soprano) Commissioned for the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games
Digital sheet music sample Emergence : sextet (2022) Commissioned by Canberra Symphony Orchestra.
Ghost Light : full orchestra (2021) Fifty fanfares commission
Above Knowing : soprano with ensemble (2020) Commissioned by Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
Digital sheet music sample Permit Me : for solo cello (2020) Commissioned by Canberra Symphony Orchestra.
Digital sheet music sample Bundjil Ngalingu (duos: 2 sopranos with chamber ensemble) (2019) Commissioned by the Naomi Milgrom Foundation in 2019 as the 5th work in the Wominjeka Song Cycle