Alex Pozniak and Caitlin Yeo have won the opportunity of a lifetime with the APRA Professional Development Awards.

The Australasian Performing Right Association has given eight promising young Australian musicians a leg-up with its biennial Professional Development Award. The winners were announced on March 14 at a ceremony in Sydney. Among these rising stars, selected from a record number of almost 2,500 entrants, were composer Alex Pozniak in the Classical category, whose award was presented by Nigel Westlake; Melbourne pianist Timothy Stevens (Jazz) and film composer Caitlin Yeo (Film and Television).

The winner in each category receives a substantial prize package valued at $25,000, comprising the opportunity to travel and study in their chosen field, recording session time and a digital distribution deal through ABC Music (Classical and Jazz) and MGM (Film and Television), as well as computer and music equipment from Apple and Roland and $12,000 cash – an enviable starter kit for any emerging artist.

A former student of Matthew Hindson and a composition graduate from the Sydney Conservatorium, Pozniak says he plans to use the funds to take part in prestigious composer summer schools overseas. “My story has been about being involved in workshops. The best way for a composer to learn is through other composers’ perspectives, feedback from performers, and having people comment on what you’ve done.” Having cut his teeth writing for major Australian ensembles in the Sydney Symphony Fellowship, the MSO Cybec 21st-century Australian Composers initiative, Song Company’s ModArt project and the Australian Youth Orchestra’s National Music Camp, the 29-year-old now has his sights set on an elite music program in Paris run by some of Europe’s most uncompromising modernist composers.

He is bound to fit right in, having already developed a reputation as an enfant terrible on the Sydney scene. The 2010 International Society of Contemporary Music festival, held in the Southern Hemisphere for the first time in the event’s 88-year history, featured three premieres of his work: Mercurial for solo cello, Flying Vertices, an onslaught of experimental noise for electric guitar, and Late Summer Fires for the Song Company, based on the Les Murray poem depicting Victorian bushfires engulfing a drought-ravaged paddock. 

Pozniak hopes to use the award funds to travel more broadly to take in contemporary music festivals in Europe as “research development for Chronology Arts”, the ensemble Pozniak co-founded with fellow composer Andrew Batt-Rawden.

For the education component of APRA’s swag of prizes, which enables the winners to enroll free of charge in a unit of study in the Australian Institute of Music’s Bachelor degree, he plans to develop his skills in electronic music production, a subject he himself is now teaching at the Sydney Conservatorium. “It’s very rewarding because I’m passionate about it and I want to impart that to my students. If I get them to hear outside of the box it’s very exciting for me”.

Caitlin Yeo, winner in the Film and Television category, describes the Professional Development Award as a “priceless opportunity”. Her prize includes a spot in the prestigious ASCAP Film and TV Scoring Workshop in Los Angeles, where she looks forward to working with “A-list Hollywood professionals, including a 60-piece orchestra of L.A.’s finest on a major studio film scoring stage, with professional music editors, copyists and composers acting as coaches and mentors. I could not think of a better way to grow and evolve as a composer, and in turn further my career.”

Yeo’s projects include the critically acclaimed documentary Bomb Harvest, which explores the harrowing collection of bomb scrap metal by children in Laos.

“I love the unusual phrasing, textures, soundscapes and harmonies that scoring forces me to explore”, she says of her craft, “and I particularly enjoy acting out the film through music. I often feel that it is not me creating the music, but the film telling me what to do.”


Pozniak accepting his award from composer Nigel Westlake

Film composer David Hirschfelder, Yeo and Westlake