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It’s been three years since the prestigious Paul Lowin Prizes were last awarded, but today six recent Australian compositions have been announced as finalists for awards in 2016. The Orchestral Prize, worth $25,000, and the Song Cycle Prize, worth $15,000, are among Australia’s richest rewards for music composition and are managed every two or three years by Perpetual in collaboration with the Australian Music Centre.
The three works shortlisted for this year’s Orchestral Prize are James Ledger’s 2013 Violin Concert Golden Years, written for Margaret Blades and commissioned by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, Cathy Milliken’s Earth Plays, premiered last year by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and winner of this year’s Art Music Awards Orchestral Work of the Year, and Lachlan Skipworth’s Clarinet Concerto, which won the Australian Art Music Awards’ 2015 prize for Best Performance of an Australian Composition for Ashley Smith and WASO.
Shortlisted for the Song Cycle Prize are Brett Dean’s Hamlet-inspired String Quartet No 2 for soprano and string quartet And once I played Ophelia (now recorded on the Chandos label), Andrew Ford’s 2013 song cycle Last Words for soprano, violin, cello and piano – a setting of final remarks from Goethe and Alban Berg to Cloudstreet’s Fish Lamb – and Andrew Schultz’s Paradise, a setting of five songs for soprano, cello and piano written in 2013.
Paul Lowin, who died in Vienna in 1961, was born in 1893 in Czechoslovakia, lived in Austria in the 1930s, and fled the Nazi terror to come to Australia in 1939. In his hand-written will he stated his wish to establish a competition for works by living Australian composers, but left rather subjective instructions that the entries would be expected to be in a “modern but not too modern” style. It took executors an agonising 30 years to thrash out what that awkward qualification actually meant and how it might be applied in practice, before the first awards took place in 1991.
According to the judges, a record number of entries were received this time around, with 67 orchestral submissions and 59 song cycles. As has always been the case, nominations were accepted from the general public as well as from a range of music professionals. Previous Paul Lowin Prize winners have included Nigel Westlake, Elliott Gyger, Mary Finsterer, Andrew Schultz, Brett Dean, Rosalind Page, Nigel Butterley, Julian Yu, Georges Lentz, Brenton Broadstock, Martin Wesley-Smith, Michael Smetanin, Raffæle Marcellino, Liza Lim and Andrew Ford.
The recipients of the two Paul Lowin Prizes will be announced at a ceremony in Sydney on December 6. Other shortlisted works will receive a special commendation and the sum of $400.