How has the competition evolved since you launched it in 2014?

The Matt Withers Australian Music Composition Competition began in 2014, originally for young composers who studied at university to enter a newly composed work for solo classical guitar. Since then it has gained great support and generated national excitement that, with feedback and requests from across the country, this unique competition has grown and is now open to all Australian composers, of any age.

Sponsorship has greatly increased and I’m proud to now be offering $2,000 cash for first place with a total of $3,250 in cash prizes for 2018 plus multiple performance opportunities around the country for the winning works, including an award for an Under 25 Emerging Artist prize.

Another major aspect for the growth of the 2018 competition is the inclusion of a professionally recorded and commercially released studio album that will give the music long term accessibility by audiences worldwide. The album will be licensed for release and digital distribution through ABC Classics.

Matt WithersGuitarist Matt Withers

What have you learnt through running this competition and performing the new works it has generated?

I have learnt that there is great enthusiasm from composers, audiences and venue promoters alike as well as from fellow musicians to see the quality of new music being created, promoted and performed in unique concerts, inspired by art.

It has been an incredible opportunity to work with many composers on new pieces and to bring to life the notes from the page that have previously not reached the hearts and ears of audiences. A world premiere is a very special affair for the composer, audience and for the performer(s), each sharing in the joy of the exclusive experience.

In the past years, the audiences for the Matt Withers Australian Music Composition Competition have thoroughly enjoyed the chance to be part of the unique event, approaching it with a great mix of curiosity and pleasure to be hearing the music for the first time.

The works are to be written for guitar and string quartet – do you feel there is a gap in the repertoire here?

Another major development for 2018 is the collaboration between myself as a classical guitarist and the illustrious string quartet, Acacia Quartet. Guitar and string quartet has been a much-loved medium since the times of Boccherini and though there are a number of great, more recent works for the ensemble combination, it still lacks a strong body of contemporary repertoire. Acacia Quartet and I share a love of new music with a passion for moving audiences and are feeling energised about helping to add more music to existing quality repertoire.

As well as the winning new works, we will be performing repertoire by leading Australian composers, with existing pieces by the likes of the late Phillip Houghton, alongside Senior Lecturer in Composition at the University of Queensland and Topology’s Robert Davidson with a newly commissioned piece written especially for the competition by Sydney’s esteemed composer/guitarist Richard Charlton.

Sue Needham, Stormy SeashoreSue Needham’s Stormy Seashore 2. Image © Sue Needham

How does using inspiration works affect the dynamic of the competition and what drew you to Sue Needham’s work as an artist?

I have found that combining visual art with music creates a unique experience for audiences to enjoy and one in which composers can express themselves in so many personal ways, using their interpretation without necessarily being given set guidelines.

The stunning work of Queensland-based visual artist Sue Needham displays a wonderful sense of creativity which I know will inspire the composers in a number of ways. I’m looking forward to seeing what their impressions are and how their compositional styles are portrayed, drawing ideas from the images.

This year, Ms Needham has created a set of three ‘Stormy Seashore’ watercolour works as the inspiration works. Compositions will be judged on the effectiveness and quality of writing for the individual instruments as well as the ensemble as a whole (guitar and string quartet). Works must be written for the full quintet for a length of between seven and ten minutes. Otherwise composers are free to write based on their interpretation of one or all of the images in single or multiple movements.

What do you hope this competition will mean for the composers who win?

Recognition by a national panel of experts will give the winning composers not only financial gain but offer them multiple performance opportunities from some of Australia’s top performers in venues across the country, together with the studio recording digitally distributed by ABC Classics. This exposure can build on their existing or emerging careers, reaching wider audiences and growing their networks.

The previous winners and podium finishers of the Matt Withers Australian Music Composition Competition have continued their passions for music and composition. For example, some have continued on to be accepted to study overseas at likes of The Julliard School of Music or been offered the opportunity to write for orchestras and other mediums, themselves feeling that some of these breaks may not have been presented to them had they not received the recognition I see their music clearly deserves.

Entries for the Matt Withers Australian Music Composition Competition 2018 are open until April 20, 2018