The acclaimed musician has been presented with this year’s Don Banks Music Award in honour of his contribution to music.

The 2016 Australia Council Awards have been announced, honouring eight leading Australian artists who have demonstrated excellence and exceptional commitment to the arts over many years. Among this year’s winners is Australian musician Brett Dean, who was awarded the Don Banks Music Award.

“[Winning this award was] an extremely moving sense of acknowledgement,” says Dean in an interview with the Australia Council. “To read through the names of previous winners was very humbling and to know that my name now stands amongst them is a very touching and proud moment.” Dean joins the ranks of Jon Rose, Archie Roach and Mike Nock as winners of the prestigious award that honours artists over the age of 50 who have made a sustained and significant contribution to Australia’s musical scene.

Dean’s career has been taken him all over the world. After finishing studies in Brisbane, he moved to Germany in 1984 to join the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and it was only in 1988 that he began composing. His clarinet concerto Ariel’s Music won the 1995 UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers Award, and esteemed conductors such as Sir Simon Rattle and David Robertson consistently champion Dean’s work. He’s an Artist in Association with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and is currently undertaking a two-week residency with the Toronto Symphony. He’ll be returning to Australia in November to work alongside David Robertson and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra as their inaugural Artist in Residence. Presently, he is also writing an opera based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet that will premiere at Glyndebourne in 2017.

As such an internationally recognised artist, does Dean feel his Australian background influences his work? “I think it does in ways that I don’t necessarily recognise consciously,” he explains. “People in Europe often comment on the “otherness” and “Australian-ness” of my music. It’s hard to define what that might be, but it often seems linked to their visual images of our landscape with its distinctive natural environments that are so different from Europe. I find that response sometimes rather ironic given that I’m very much a city dweller and have been for most of my life, much of it in Europe in fact! I think that the role that our arts and artists can play on the world stage in expanding and deepening others’ knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Australia cannot be overstated but is often underestimated.”  

Tony Grybowski, the Australia’s Council’s Chief Executive Officer, acknowledged the eight artists as each having played an important role in the national development of their chosen rat form. “Many of them spend considerable time working internationally and are wonderful ambassadors for Australian arts,” he says.  

The 2016 Australia Council Award Winners:

Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature: David Malouf AO 
Don Banks Music Award: ­­Brett Dean 
Australia Council Visual Arts Award: Richard Bell
Australia Council Emerging & Experimental Arts Award: Kelli McCluskey
Australia Council Dance Award: Lucy Guerin
Australia Council Theatre Award: Yaron LIfschitz
Ros Bower Award (Community Arts and Cultural Development): Lily Shearer
Kirk Robson Award (Community Arts and Cultural Development): Nathan Stoneham 

To read interviews with each of the eight artists, visit the Australia Council website.