Women dominate Art Music Awards

Melbourne composer Lisa Young is among the winners in the 2021 Art Music Awards.
Melbourne composer Lisa Young is among the winners in the 2021 Art Music Awards.

A rhythmic and rousing piece for 320 young voices by composer Lisa Young has been named choral work of the year at the 2021 Art Music Awards.

Titled Sacred Stepping Stones, the commissioned work received its world premiere in January 2020 at Gondwana Choirs' Festival of Summer Voices in Sydney, where Young conducted a performance for massed choir.

It was among a raft of winners at the annual awards on Thursday.

Young said the five-minute piece was written as a response to the challenges of climate change.

"I was trying to write on a topic I felt passionate about and I knew those young people in the choir would feel passionate about it too," the Melbourne composer told AAP.

"It makes me weep when I watch it," she said of the recorded performance, which can be found online.

"Their faces are so passionate and spirited for the message, and you can see them enjoying the polyrhythmic textures and the vocal percussion language."

Thanks to the vagaries of the COVID-19 pandemic that has seen choral activities deemed a high risk to public health, Young's winning work has only been performed once in Australia since that premiere.

A week before Sydney went into its current lockdown, Sydney Children's Choir included it in a concert at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

It's a different story in Spain, where Leioa Kantika Korala has performed the piece in eight churches and concert halls across the country this year.

"Sacred Stepping Stones has also just been recorded in Bilbao by this choir for their forthcoming CD, Like a Rainbow, so it's lovely for the work, as this will help it travel," Young said.

While there have been "little moments" over the past 18 months when choirs have been allowed to sing in Young's hometown, she acknowledges the limitations have been "really tough".

It's one of the cruel ironies of COVID-19 that something so beneficial to the wellbeing of individuals and communities - choirs - has the potential to super-spread a respiratory virus that is now known to be airborne.

"In Spain, all the performances have been with the choir wearing masks and the audience being socially distanced and wearing masks, but they've been able to continue, whereas here we haven't. And that's just how it is," Young said.

Presented by APRA AMCOS and the Australian Music Centre, the annual awards celebrate excellence by composers, performers and educators in contemporary classical, jazz, improvisation, sound art and experimental music.

This year, 11 women, six men and six organisations were recognised.

Vanessa Perica's composition for large jazz ensemble, Spaccanapoli, took out jazz work of the year.

The piece borrows its title from the long, narrow street that slices through the historic centre of Naples, which the Perth-born, Melbourne-based composer visited on her honeymoon.

Large ensemble work of the year was given to Piece 43 for Now, by Brisbane-born, Berlin-based oboist and composer Cathy Milliken.

Referencing both Shakespeare's Sonnet 43 and the police shooting of Jacob Blake on August 23, 2020 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which left the young black man partially paralysed, the 15-minute work was premiered online by the German SWR Symphony Orchestra in October 2020.

"The initial inspiration ... was the Sonnet 43 of Shakespeare, which delves into the contradictions of love, into the brightness of night," Milliken has written on her website.

"However, this work has found its own way through all that surrounds us, me, for now."

Adelaide-based composer Anne Cawrse collected chamber work of the year for her string quartet A Room of Her Own.

Commissioned and premiered by the Australian String Quartet, the four-movement piece is, almost, named after English modernist writer Virginia Woolf's landmark feminist essay, A Room of One's Own.

"A Room of Her Own is my essay and personal reflection upon the requirements for prosperous creativity," Cawrse has written on the Australian String Quartet's website.

"In it, I explore the delicate balance between the realm of the creator and the work being created, taking inspiration from quotes gathered from Woolf's seminal text."

Excellence in experimental music went to Listening in the Wild, a series of soundscapes drawn from Sunshine Coast environments by Leah Barclay, Lyndon Davis and Tricia King.

Comprising sound walks through Eudlo Creek National Park, along the Maroochy River and into the ocean at Mooloolaba Beach, the work includes stories by the Kabi Kabi people of southeastern Queensland.

Site-specific images by Sunshine Coast documentary photographer Tricia King accompany each soundscape.

The commissioned series was performed live for online audiences as part of Horizon Festival 2020.

Elsewhere, Moorambilla Magic Modules, an online program for children in regional and remote NSW developed by Moorambilla Voices, was given the excellence in music education award.

Soprano Deborah Kayser was presented with the Luminary national award for an individual in recognition of her three decades of work as a champion of musical innovation.

And the Luminary national award for an organisation went to Melbourne-based Speak Percussion, which has generated more than 130 commissions and premieres of new percussion works.

APRA AMCOS chief executive Dean Ormston and chair of the Australian Music Centre's board of directors Marshall McGuire said the organisations were "proud to celebrate the ingenuity and dedication of this year's finalists at at time of change and disruption - and in some ways also a time of opportunity - in the performing arts landscape".

"We remain committed to advocating on behalf of music creators, organisations and arts workers.

"We look forward to acknowledging your incredible work in person in 2022."


* Choral - Lisa Young - Sacred Stepping Stones

* Dramatic - Erik Griswold - Dragon Ladies Don't Weep

* Jazz - Vanessa Perica -Spaccanapoli

* Large ensemble - Cathy Milliken - Piece 43 For Now

* Chamber music - Anne Cawrse - A Room of Her Own

* Electroacoustic/Sound Art - Tariro Mavondo, Reuben Lewis and Peter Knight - Closed Beginnings

* Jazz/Improvised - Phonetic Orchestra - Silent Towns

* Notated composition - Sydney Chamber Opera, Jessica O'Donoghue, Jack Symonds, Clemence Williams - Commute

* Excellence in education - Moorambilla Voices - Moorambilla Magic Modules

* Excellence in experimental music - Leah Barclay, Lyndon Davis, Tricia King - Listening in the Wild

* Luminary individual - Deborah Kayser

* Luminary organisation - Speak Percussion

Australian Associated Press