The 2020 Art Music Awards have been announced with an impressive line-up of winners hailing from every corner of Australia. In line with the current state of play for arts organisations across the nation, this year’s Awards went online in response to the coronavirus pandemic which has caused unparalleled devastation in the arts over the last six months. Presented annually by APRA AMCOS and the Australian Music Centre, the event was co-hosted by Jonathan Biggins, Dr Lou Bennett AM and Zela Margossian and included online performances by Robin Fox and Erkki Veltheim, Louise Devenish, Linda May Han Oh, Melanie Mununggurr-Williams and Beatrice Lewis.

At the heart of the Awards are the New Works of the Year in newly reorganised categories reflecting the changing landscape and priorities of Australian art music.

Robin Fox and Erkki Veltheim's DiasporaRobin Fox and Erkki Veltheim’s Diaspora. Photo courtesy of the Art Music Awards

In the first of several wins for Western Australian musicians and their work, James Ledger’s Viola Concerto won the Award for Work of the Year: Large Ensemble. The 11th work by Ledger to be premiered by WASO, it was written for composer and violist Brett Dean and premiered in 2019. The judges praised it as “a highly sophisticated work with its innovative harmonic language and beautiful synergy between all its elements”.

The award for Work of the Year: Chamber Music went to Chris Dench’s passing bells: day, a composition for solo piano and the first part of a 40-minute, two-sectioned piece (it concludes with passing bells: night) that reflects on the cycle of medieval monastic life over 24 hours from midnight through to midnight.

Work of the Year: Choral went to Paul Stanhope’s I am Martuwarra, a setting of a text by Steve Hawke – who also provided the words for Stanhope’s large scale cantata Jandamarra about the 19th-century Kimberley Region freedom fighter. Commissioned by Gondwana Choirs, the judges described it as “a texturally varied and interesting work that harnesses the richness of the multi-layered choral forces to great effect.”

Cat HopeCat Hope. Photo courtesy of the Art Music Awards

Split off this year from the Choral category, the newly christened “Dramatic” Award went to two contrasting operatic works: Elliott Gyger and Pierce Wilcox’s Oscar and Lucinda, based on Peter Carey’s novel and premiered last year by Sydney Chamber Opera, and Cat Hope’s Speechless, a wordless “animated notation opera” and a personal response to the 2014 Human Rights Commission report into Children in Immigration Detention that was a hit at this year’s Perth International Arts Festival.

Finally, Western Australia took home the Art Music Award for Work of the Year: Jazz for bassist and composer Linda May Han Oh’s Aventurine, while the Award for Work of the Year: Electroacoustic/Sound Art (a new category this year) went to Melbourne-based composer Matthias Schack-Arnott’s Everywhen, an innovative solo-percussion piece that premiered at last Year’s Melbourne Festival.

Chris SainsburyChris Sainsbury. Photo courtesy of the Art Music Awards

The inaugural national Luminary Award for an individual, acknowledging a sustained contribution over several years, was presented to Dharug composer Chris Sainsbury as the force behind the Ngarra-Burria: First Nations Composers program. “Chris’s work over the past five years has had a national impact in both training emerging First Nations composers and redefining their role and future within Australian art music,” said the judging panel. The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra won the Luminary Award for an Organisation, for its long-term commitment to offering professional development for Australian composers and musicians, as well as for its promotion of gender equity through opportunities for female conductors.

Louise DevenishLouise Devenish performs EXPOSICIONES. Photo courtesy of the Art Music Awards

The Performance of the Year Awards were presented in two categories for the first time with Western Australian percussionist Louise Devenish winning the Notated Music category for her program Sheets of Sound while Sandy Evans’s Bridge of Dreams team won the Performance of the Year: Jazz/Improvised Music Award.

The Award for Excellence in Music Education went to Netanela Mizrahi and Guwanbal Gurruwiwi for the Djari Project, a compositional collaboration drawing on the traditional songlines of the Galpu community of Galiwinku/Elcho Island that brought  together composers, musicians, music educators and students throughout the Northern Territory. The Music Box Project won the Award for Excellence in Experimental Music for Shallow Listening, the Award for Excellence in a Regional Area went to Gillian Howell and Tura New Music for the Fitzroy Valley New Music Project.

As announced in August, composer and sound artist Dr Ros Bandt formally accepted this year’s Richard Gill Award for Distinguished Services to Australian Music.


The full list of 2020 Art Music Awards is as follows:

Richard Gill Award for Distinguished Services to Australian Music
Dr Ros Bandt

Award for Excellence in Music Education
Netanela Mizrahi and Guwanbal Gurruwiwi for the Djari Project

Award for Excellence in a Regional Area
Gillian Howell and Tura New Music for the Fitzroy Valley New Music Project

Award for Excellence in Experimental Music
The Music Box Project for Shallow Listening

Work of the Year: Choral
I am Martuwarra
Paul Stanhope, text by Steve Hawke
Gondwana Choirs, Luminescence Chamber Singers, Valla Voices, Hunter Singers, and Resonance and Lyn Williams, conductor

Work of the Year: Chamber Music
passing bells: day
Chris Dench Alex Raineri

Work of the Year: Large Ensemble
Viola Concerto
James Ledger
Brett Dean, West Australian Symphony Orchestra and Fabien Gabel, conductor

Work of the Year: Electroacoustic/Sound Art
Everywhen
Matthias Schack-Arnott

Work of the Year: Dramatic
Oscar and Lucinda
Elliott Gyger, librettist Pierce Wilcox
Sydney Chamber Opera and Jack Symonds, conductor

Speechless
Cat Hope
Judith Dodsworth, Karina Utomo, Caitlin Cassidy, Sage Pbbbt (soloists), with Australian Bass Orchestra, Decibel New Music Ensemble and Aaron Wyatt, conductor

Work of the Year: Jazz
Aventurine
Linda May Han Oh
Linda May Han Oh, Greg Ward, Matt Mitchell, Ches Smith, Fung Chern Hwei, Sara Caswell, Benni von Gutzeit, Jeremy Harman, Invenio with Gian Slater, director

Performance of the Year: Notated Composition
Louise Devenish
Sheets of Sound
Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh, Matthias Schack-Arnott, Louise Devenish and Stuart James

Performance of the Year: Jazz/Improvised Music
Sandy Evans, Shubha Mudgal, Aneesh Pradhan and Sirens Big Band
Bridge of Dreams
Sandy Evans, Shubha Mudgal and Aneesh Pradhan

Luminary Awards: National

Individual
Chris Sainsbury for initiating and driving Ngarra-Burria: First Peoples Composers program

Organisation
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra for Australian Composers School, Australian Conducting Academy, and professional development opportunities for Australian musicians

Luminary Awards: State/Territory

Australian Capital Territory
Canberra International Music Festival for their record-breaking 2019 event and ongoing reputation for high quality and innovative programming

New South Wales
Joanna Drimatis for sustained contribution to the performance, programming and advocacy of Australian works, and string music education

South Australia
Ross McHenry for trailblazing global pathways through artistic practice for South Australian musicians

Northern Territory
David Wilfred & Daniel Wilfred for cultural leadership and sustained creative contributions in Australia and beyond

Western Australia
Louise Devenish for her ongoing advocacy, commissioning and performance of new percussion music in Western Australia

Victoria
Making Waves for breaking down perceived state barriers and connecting a new generation of Australian musicians

Tasmania
Michael Kieran Harvey for supporting the Tasmanian new music community through teaching, performance and recording

Queensland
Katie Noonan for The Glad Tomorrow and furthering the future of Queensland musicians