Winners announced at Australian Art Music’s annual night of celebration.

It was the night of nights for Australian Art Music, when Melbourne played host for the first time yesterday evening to the 2014 Art Music Awards, presented by APRA AMCOS and the Australian Music Centre held in the opulent interiors of the Plaza Ballroom on Collins Street.

A highlight on the Australian music calendar, last night’s awards presented an opportunity for the who’s who of Australian contemporary classical, jazz and experimental music to come together to celebrate each other’s achievements, as well as acknowledge some of this country’s finest composers, performers and educators for their standout efforts.

Fittingly, the evening began with music, curated by Australian recorder virtuoso and tireless advocate for new music, Genevieve Lacey. The first works for the evening were performed by some of the country’s brightest young stars from the Australian National Academy of Music. Two movements from Stuart Greenbaum’s beautiful Mondrian Interiors opened the proceedings, followed by a moving performance of an excerpt from Nigel Westlake and Lior’s Compassion, with Westlake conducting.

Nigel Westlake and Lior. Photo credit: Martin Philbey

Australian Music Centre CEO John Davis then took the stage for the official welcome, and to acknowledge the various nominees for the awards, and winners of the State awards. He also took the occasion to deliver a rousing call for boosting the representation of Australian composition and content in local programs and concerts, particularly by major orchestras, which received an energised response from the hall. This was followed by APRA AMCOS CEO Brett Cottle’s moving tribute to recently departed Australian music legend, Peter Sculthorpe.

It was then on with the major awards for the evening. Australian Radio and Television presenter Fenella Kernebone was the night’s MC, calling on Victorian State Minister for the Arts and Women’s Affairs Heidi Victoria MP to present the first two awards. The award for Excellence in Music Education was presented to Cathy Aggett for new Australian art songs for low voice, a project culminating in 21 new works by Australian composers. The award for Excellence in a Regional Area went to Goulburn Regional Conservatorium for performing Stephen Leek’s Goulburn Oratorio for large orchestra and choir.

Chair of the awards panel Liz Terracini presented the next two awards. The award for Excellence by an Organisation went to the Australian Art Orchestra for their touring, community building, recording, creativity and leadership, and was accepted by an excited Artistic Director Peter Knight via iPhone recording in Denmark. The award for Excellence by an Individual went to Catharine Crock, for her tireless efforts in organising the Hush Collection, a CD featuring works by Australian composers aimed to soothe patients, parents and staff at children’s hospitals around the country. There was resounding applause for Catherine as she accepted her award and thanked the various Australian musicians and composers who, as she says, have helped “changed the whole culture in healthcare”.

A second round of performances followed, beginning with the engaging, pointillist world of Neil Kelly and Michael Hewes’ Encore à cet escalier for prepared player piano and electronics. Peter Sculthorpe’s calming and meditative solo piano work Djilile emerged from the flurry of electronic activity, performed with great affection by Tamara Anna Cislowska.

John Davis then returned to present a solemn tribute to some of the great names in Australian music who had died in the last year, including David Ades, John Colborne-Veel, Bernie McGann, Thomas Tycho, the great conductor and educator, John Hopkins AM OBE, and of course, Peter Sculthorpe.

Australian singing legend Katie Noonan presented the next two awards. The award for Excellence in Jazz went to Alister Spence and Myra Melford for their recording project, Everything is Possible. Jazz Work of the Year went to Paul Grabowsky for his large ensemble piece, Tall Tales (Paul quipped that he didn’t think he was going to win, accepting the award after just popping a mint in his mouth).

CEO of the Melbourne Recital Centre Mary Valentine was called on to present the award for Distinguished Services to Australian Music to Richard Gill OAM. Praising him for his enduring values in musical education, Valentine paid tribute to Richard’s “inimitable ability to inspire creativity”. Richard accepted the award to a standing ovation from the audience, delighting the crowd with an anecdote about his first trip to APRA to register a pop song that had made the top 10 on the 2gb Top 40. Richard also offered a teaser for an important upcoming announcement involving music education for State school students in Australia (we’ll have to stay tuned for that one).

Richard Gill accepting his Distinguished Services to Australian Music Award. Photo credit: Martin Philbey

The third round of performances got under way with Speak Percussion’s Eugene Ughetti, Matthias Schack-Arnott and Kaylie Melville playing Basic Patterns from Popular Contexts Vol. 6, a crazy mix of cool jazz, techno and electronic music by Matthew Shlomowitz.

Now at  ‘pointy end’ of the evening, the award for Excellence in Experimental Music went to current Peggy Glanville-Hicks house resident Cat Hope for her Drawn From Sound exhibition.

Fantasy novelist Alison Croggon presented the awards for Performance of the Year and Vocal/Choral Work of the Year. The Performance of the Year Award went to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Simone Young with soloist Peter Coleman-Wright, for their performance of Brett Dean’s Last Days of Socrates, with text by Graeme Ellis. With the orchestra on tour, MSO Chorus director Jonathan Grieves-Smith accepted the award, making a tearful speech that spoke of the hours of hard work put in by the chorus and orchestra to bring off the thrilling and monumental performance.

Andrew Ford was presented the award for Vocal/Choral Work of the Year for his piano trio and soprano soloist, Last Words, performed by the Seraphim Trio with Jane Sheldon. Ford accepted the award, crediting his wife Anni for giving him the idea for the work.

Chair of the Board for the Australian Council of the Arts Rupert Meyer presented the final awards for the evening. The award for Instrumental Work of the Year went to Mary Finsterer for her work, Aerea, which she lovingly dedicated to her children. Finally, the award for Orchestral Work of the Year went to James Ledger for his violin concerto Golden Years, performed by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. Ledger spoke of the challenges surrounding the composition, and how a number of small, ‘tricky’ bits for the soloist, Margaret Blades, had culminated in a very ‘tricky’ concerto. Clearly the trickiness paid off.

Mary Finsterer accepting her award for Instrumental Work of the Year. Photo credit: Martin Philbey

A groovy performance by Paul Grabowsky, Gian Slater and the Invenio singers of Gian Slater’s ethereal composition Gone brought the formal proceedings to a close, allowing the night’s attendees to laugh and mingle over a drinks.

It was, if nothing else, a night of solidarity and camaraderie. Art Music clearly has a heart-warmingly strong community in Australia ­– for which we can clearly thank APRA AMCOS and the Australian Music Centre, which is celebrating its 40th year next year.

We offer hearty congratulations to the winners and nominees, and everyone involved in organising last night’s spectacular awards ceremony – well done to you all!

For full details of award recipients head to the Australian Music Centre website.

For more photos from the evening check out the APRA AMCOS gallery.