Hosted by APRA AMCOS and the Australian Music Centre, the awards recognise excellence in new Australian music.

At a gala ceremony yesterday evening at the City Recital Hall, Angel Place in Sydney, the winners of the 2015 Art Music Awards, hosted by APRA AMCOS and the Australian Music Centre were revealed. The awards are the most prestigious in Australia recognising the achievements of artists and organisations presenting and creating new works of Australian music. In total 11 national and six state category winners were announced across the genres of contemporary art music, jazz and experimental music, although notably only a single woman was recognised with an award this year.

Hosted by Fenella Kernebone, with performances curated by recorder virtuoso Genevieve Lacey, the awards began with an address from the CEO of APRA AMCOS, Brett Cottle, who announced the establishment of a major new funding programme to “sure up Australian composition”. Pledging an initial investment of $100,000 annually, the APRA Art Music Commissioning Fund will support the creation of new music to abate the “greatly troubling decline of Australian composition.”

Following Cottle’s announcement, CEO of the Australian Music Centre, John Davis, delivered an address warning of the wider impact on the entire arts ecosystem in Australia by severing funding channels to the small to medium and experimental sector. “Moving funding from the areas that are most fragile, least financially secure, least able to afford it is doing critical damage to the entire sector. Less funding to the small to medium sector means less Australian content, as this is the part of the sector where the majority of Australian content is generated, where the Australian voice is most heard,” Davis said. He added that the Australia Council’s role in supporting new Australian work was “ubiquitous,” and that artist should continue to be proactive in voicing their concerns about the recent cuts to its budgets. “Write to the [Arts] Minister, talk to your local member, engage, and tell them the story of your values and your connections. Don’t do it once; do it often. Make it audible, so we can continue into the future to celebrate excellence represented in the outstanding achievements and successes across the Australian art music community,” he said.

The recently announced inaugural Artist in Residence with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Brett Dean, won the Orchestra Work of the Year, for his trumpet concerto Dramatis Personae, written for Swedish trumpet virtuoso Håkan Hardenberger. In his video acceptance speech, Dean paid tribute to Hardenberger, who is a major champion of new music, for “transforming the literature of modern trumpet playing.”

The Vocal/Choral Work of the year was awarded to Iain Grandage for his opera, The Riders. Set to a libretto by Alison Croggon, after the novel by celebrated Australian author Tim Winton, this major new Australian opera was premiered by Victorian Opera in 2014. It has been a hugely successful year so far for Grandage, who has won several laurels, including three Helpmann Awards, for his collaboration with Kate Miller Heidke, The Rabbits, a children’s opera commissioned by Opera Australian and West Australian Opera.

Damien Ricketson’s multi-discipline immersive performance collaboration with Ensemble Offspring, The Secret Noise, won the award for Best Instrumental Work of the Year. Staged at Sydney Town Hall, the even combined installation, live performance, choreography and electronics. Mace Francis was recognised for the best Jazz Work of the Year, for his piece, Music for Average Photography.

Clarinettist Ashley William Smith and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, with conductor Baldur Brönnimann, won the Performance of the Year category for their premiere performance of Lachlan Skipworth’s Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra.

In the Excellence categories, which recognise the achievements of an individual or organisation across a range of activities contributing to the vibrancy of Australian music, vocal music for children was a running theme. The Award for Excellence by an Organisation was won by Gondwana Choirs for its advocacy of new Australian music since its founding in 1989. The Award for Excellence in a Regional Area went to the New England Conservatorium of Music for its New England Sings! Project, which engages with choristers of all ages, as well as local ensembles and orchestras to perform new commissions. Lorraine Milne won this year’s Award for Excellence in Music Education for her work as a teacher, author, composer, arranger and music director over the past 50 years. Much of her work has involved using song and vocal compositions to introduce children to music.

Ross Edwards, one of the country’s most revered composers, received the Award for Excellence by an Individual, for his significant catalogue of chamber music, and Richard Johnson, the founder of the SoundOut Festival of Experimental and Improvised Music was recognised with the Award for Excellence in Experimental Music. Julien Wilson won the Award for Excellence in Jazz for his work launching Lionsharecords, and championing Australian Jazz artists.

Announced last week, composer Larry Sitsky was awarded the Distinguished Services to Australian Music award. The 80-year-old composer, originally from China, is one of Australia’s most accomplished composers, as well as having nurtured several generations of Australia’s top composers through his teaching work.