Deborah Cheetham

Deborah CheethamDeborah Cheetham. Photo © Simon Schluter

Critics’ Choice: Australian Artist of the Year

I feel elated. It is truly an honour to receive this recognition… The arts are so much more than an optional luxury in the traditional life and practice of Indigenous people. It is part of our identity. – Deborah Cheetham

Read our interview with Deborah Cheetham

It was a wonderful, heart-warming moment. A full concert hall, rising as one to salute a powerful work of art, its interpreters, its creator and, perhaps most importantly, the precious imperative of reconciliation behind it all. The premiere of Eumeralla, a war requiem for peace by Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in June was for Deborah Cheetham “a rare unison outpouring of gratitude and empathy – unlike anything I have ever witnessed”. Yet for this talented Yorta Yorta singer, composer, arts administrator and activist, the on-country premiere in 2018 “will live in my memory for ever” because it “brought the language of the Gunditjmara home… after generations of suppression and silence”.

Cheetham is far from silent about issues affecting Indigenous peoples and the arts. “How Australia comes to terms with its relationship with the longest continuing cultures on earth is not a side-order subject, it is the main course,” she says.

Cheetham had a busy 2019. Canberra Symphony Orchestra premiered Gulaga, a very personal piece of hers for flute, clarinet and oboe, which Limelight described as “an extraordinary work”. She won the 2019 Melbourne Prize for Music and the Sir Bernard Heinze Memorial Award, and she delivered the Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address.

This year is even busier. Among her numerous works as composer-in-residence with the MSO will be music for Acknowledgement of Country in 11 Victorian languages. West Australian Symphony Orchestra performs Eumeralla, and her company Short Black Opera celebrates its tenth anniversary with her opera Pecan Summer at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

Limelight Australian Artist of the Year not only honours Cheetham’s extraordinary creative energy, but her prophetic advocacy for Indigenous peoples. Both mark her out as a singular leader in the Australian arts landscape. Tony Way

Critics’ Choice: Runners Up

David Robertson first guest conducted the Sydney Symphony Orchestra back in 2003 before becoming its Chief Conductor and Artistic Director in 2014. As he departs, he can look back proudly on six years of inspiring programming.

Diana Doherty is not just the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Oboe, she is also an acclaimed soloist with a string of CDs under her belt. Her recording of Nigel Westlake’s Spirit of the Wild made our top five orchestral discs of 2019.