The country’s most prestigious national platform for young classical musicians is to be immediately discontinued.

The ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Award is to be axed, it has emerged today. In an email obtained by Limelight from Symphony Australia CEO Kate Lidbetter, it was revealed that the country’s most prestigious awards for young classical musicians will “not be continuing into the future.” The decision to discontinue the awards is in response to a major restructure of Symphony Australia’s activities, which will see the cessation of all national training programmes for emerging musicians from 2017.

Lidbetter’s email to Symphony Australia members reads, “For the past few years, Symphony Australia has managed the Young Performers Awards on behalf of its partner, the ABC. As a result of [the planned] changes, Symphony Australia will no longer be running the YPA and we have been informed by the ABC that it is also not in a position to re-assume responsibility for directly managing the competition.”

The changes to Symphony Australia’s services is allegedly in response to the increased development activity of its six member orchestras, which Symphony Australia claims has made many of the programmes it offers redundant.

Conductor Development courses including Symphony Australia’s residential Summer School, run in conjunction with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, its support role with the Australian Youth Orchestra and the Sydney Symphony’s Orchestra Fellowship programme will continue into 2016. Symphony Australia will also continue its role commissioning new Australian works for the six major state orchestras, as well as running its Composer Development School. However from 2017 all of these activities will cease to be offered nationally. Lidbetter’s email pledges that, “The orchestras will collaborate to ensure a range of programmes is available to meet the needs of developing artists,” which Symphony Australia intend to collate via a new online database.

The news of the axing of the ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Award is yet another crushing blow to youth arts, in the same week that it emerged that just three out of 14 youth theatre organisations who applied for Australia Council Funding in the September grant round were successful.

Dr Ashley Smith

Former finalist of the of the ABC Symphony Australia (formerly Symphony International) Young Performer Awards, Dr Ashley Smith, shared his shock at the loss of such a vital platform for the promotion of young musicians in Australia. “The YPA made a massive contribution to my development as a young musician. Watching the competition each year on TV as a kid was a huge inspiration as a beginner instrumentalist – I saw it as the gold medal. Participating in the competition myself in 2010 not only provided me with the thrilling experience of performing a concerto with several orchestras and several conductors, but has had an unending impact on my career to date. In fact, so many aspects of my career today can be traced back to the performing and career opportunities that YPA afforded me,” Dr Smith said. “I am deeply concerned that without YPA, the best and brightest of Australia’s young musicians will remain uninspired and malnourished for opportunities to kickstart a major performing career. If we bin the Young Performer Awards, we have to ask ourselves if Australia truly has the resources to produce elite level inspired young musicians with unique artistic voices that can make major contributions both nationally and internationally,” he added.

The ABC has hosted an annual competition to find the best young classical performers in Australia since 1944. Its most recent guise, with an overall winner crowned as the Outstanding Competitor, has been in effect since 1981. Some of Australia’s most accomplished musicians launched their careers off the back of the YPAs, including ARIA Award-winning pianist Tamara-Anna Cislowska (winner in 1991), Cellist Liwei Qin (winner 1993), pianist Simon Tedeschi (winner 1998) and percussionist and Artistic Director of Ensemble Offspring, Claire Edwardes (winner 1999).

Limelight approached Symphony Australia for comment, but were unable to obtain any statement before publishing.