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Christopher Sainsbury : Represented Artist

In many ways I consider myself to be a regionalist Australian composer. I reinterpret and reconstitute motives and images of my region in new works that fortify a sense of regional identity. It's largely about 'the local' for me.

Random Audio Sample: The flower-girls : for oboe solo by Christopher Sainsbury, from the CD Bushfire

Photo of Christopher Sainsbury

I was born on the Central Coast of NSW in 1963 and have spent most of my life in that region. Presently I live in Canberra where I am Associate Professor in Composition at the ANU. I write orchestral music, chamber music, songs, choral music, and solo instrumental pieces including much guitar music (my instrument). I work in regional, community and professional contexts.

I largely look to my former home region for inspiration. My PhD focus was on working as a regionalist composer, which is about reinterpreting and reconstituting the motives and images of ones region in new works that fortify a sense of regional identity. It's important to me on many levels, and in part is informed by my Indigenous heritage. I am of mixed background and am a Dharug Aboriginal person (commonly known as Eora), from the region of Sydney and the lower Central Coast. Some works that display regionalism include First Light for the Central Coast Symphony Orchestra, which subsequently won the New England Philharmonic Orchestra's Score Competition Boston 2010-11, and the Brackish Songs for mezzo-soprano and guitar, soon to be released on an ABC Classic album of my material (featuring Ken Murray, Leila Engle, Ensemble Three and others).

I draw upon many of the sounds of regional and community groups I was involved in during my formative years (the 1960s and 1970s). The various casual dissonances, out of kilter rhythms, wrong counterpoints, collisions of chords, false entries, etc from those years now surface in my music in more considered ways than back then whilst playing or listening in the surf club halls, local musical society halls, and churches of the region. I think it's a bit of a signature in my work and most recently I've employed such sounds in The Visitors commissioned by Richard Mills for the Victorian Opera 2023 season, libretto Jane Harrison. My influences range from Birtwistle to so-called 'lite music', and from rock back to Bach, quite eclectic really.

My guitar music includes the Concerto for Guitar written for Spanish virtuoso guitarist Jose Maria Gallardo del Rey, and it was featured at the Darwin International Guitar Festival 2002. And as well as many small guitar solo works there is My Eye Has Seen My Desire (for bass recorder and guitar) which was originally featured in a European tour by Dutch greats Erik Bosgraaf and Izhar Elias in 2004. In 2020 I released my Ocean Song CD with the Random Earth Band which features Guy Strazz and myself on guitars. I consider it a cross between folk, jazz and surf music.

Going further back, in 1986 the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra premiered my first professional orchestral work Horizons, and in 1987 the ACO commissioned Homage to TS Eliot, and also my Voyage of the Endeavour for the Nouveaux Singers was commissioned for the World Expo Brisbane 88.

My research interests are contemporary guitar music techniques, regionalist music composition, and Aboriginal classical/new music. A selection of works that suggest my heritage include the Brackish Songs, First Light, Red Kangaroo Standing (for Canberra's Griffyn Ensemble) and North Country Sketches recorded in 2003 by Ken Murray for the ABC. I founded the Ngarra-burria First Peoples Composers program, and mentor in that group. I hold the Inaugural APRA Luminary Award for establishing that program and effecting change in the industry (2020). Then in 2022 the program won an international award, the Classical:NEXT Award for Innovation in classical and new music.

I still use pencil and manuscript to work with, and Finale to render scores neatly.

Christopher Sainsbury — current to September 2022

Awards & Prizes

Year Award Placing Awarded for
2022 Classical:NEXT Innovation Award Winner Ngarra-Burria: First Peoples Composers program
2020 Art Music Awards: Luminary Awards - National (Individual) Winner Awarded for founding, directing and being lead composer mentor for the Ngarra-burria First Peoples Composers Program
2020 Museums and Galleries National Award (MAGNA) Joint Winner Ngarra-Burria's contribution to the Songs of Home exhibition at the Sydney Living Museums & State Archives of NSW
2010 New England Philharmonic Orchestra Boston Call for Scores Award Winner First light

Selected Commissions

  Work Commission Details
Clock : SATB choir Commissioned by Oriana Chorale.
Digital sheet music sample Guwara : string orchestra (2022) Commissioned by Melbourne String Ensemble.
Digital sheet music sample Yanu : for solo viola (2022) Commissioned by Vincent Bicego.
From the deep (solo double bass) (2020) Written as part of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra's 2020 Australian Miniseries.
Digital sheet music sample Rain Falls And After : for two guitars (2020) Commissioned by Roland Peelman for performance by Canberra International Music Festival.
Digital sheet music sample The Arrival (solo piano) (2018) A commission from Friends of Chopin Australia (Canberra), for the Centenary of Polish Independence.