The Australian Independent Record Labels Association (AIR) has announced the nominees for the 2021 AIR Awards. Among 80 nominees across 16 categories are five nominees for Best Independent Classical Album or EP. The not-for-profit, non-government association, which oversees the independent music recording industry in Australia, has been holding the annual awards for 16 years and has been awarding the classical category since 2013.

The nominees for this year’s nominees are: Andrew Blanch and Ariel Nurhadi for their album Alchemy, Richard Tognetti and The Australian Chamber Orchestra for their recordings of Brahms’ third and fourth symphonies; Ensemble Offspring for their album Songbirds; Jayson Gillham, Nicholas Carter and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra for their complete recordings of the Beethoven Piano Concerti; and Joseph and James Tawadros, Benjamin Northey and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra for Joseph Tawadros Live at the Sydney Opera House. It is a varied nominee pool, encapsulating both full symphonic works and intimate chamber recordings.

Guitar duo Andrew Blanch and Ariel Nurhadi’s debut album Alchemy, which was released late last year, presents the duo at their best with recordings of some well-known (and some lesser known) works, either originally composed for or specially arranged for two guitars. This includes some typical Piazzolla tango duets alongside new arrangements of Debussy piano works. The album, released by ABC Classic, received four stars from Limelight.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra’s release of the Brahms’ two final symphonies was taken from concert recordings in 2013 (Symphony No 4) in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall and 2015 (Symphony No 3) in Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne as part of past concert tours. Both performances were well received (the third symphony received four stars from Limelight), and are both conducted by ACO Artistic Director Richard Tognetti, who also serves as lead violin for the ensemble. The album has been produced and released independently. 

Ensemble Offspring’s album Songbirds was originally intended as a concert tour last year to celebrate the group’s 25th anniversary. However, like so many others, the concert plants were laid to rest as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a compromise, the ensemble has released the intended program as an independently produced and released album, featuring nine original commissions written specifically for founding ensemble members Claire Edwardes (Percussion), Jason Noble (Clarinets), and Lamorna Nightingale (Flutes). Inspired by Australian songbirds, the compositions were developed in tandem with field researchers from around Australia, incorporating recordings of Australian wildlife into the pieces. The album received four stars from Limelight.

In June 2019, Nicholas Carter’s final year as Principal Conductor, he and Australian pianist Jayson Gillham completed the mammoth task of performing the entire cycle of Beethoven’s five beloved piano concerti over two weeks in Elder Hall in Adelaide. The result is ABC Classic’s release of the full recordings of the concert cycle, beginning with the extroverted No 1, and ending with the explosive and politically charged No 5 (The Emperor). Upon its release in July last year, the album received four stars from Limelight (the concert series itself received 5 stars across the board in 2019).

Award-winning Australian oud virtuoso and composer Joseph Tawadros’ 2019 collaboration with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and his own percussionist brother, James Tawadros was well received by Limelight. The SSO has now released the recordings of the concerts, featuring a program of high-spirited works written by Tawadros himself. As Limelight quoted at the time, the program “blur[s] the boundaries between middle-eastern classical music, contemporary jazz and Western classical music”. Released by ABC Classic Limelight gave the album four and half stars.

The winner among these five differing releases, along with the winners of the 15 other categories, will be announced on 5 August at the 2021 AIR Awards in Adelaide.

More information about the AIR Awards and this year’s finalists can be found here 

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