Cellist Richard Narroway has won The Music Trust’s prestigious 2020 Freedman Classical Fellowship, taking home a purse of $20,000. The annual competition would normally culminate in a deciding concert at the Sydney Opera House. This year, the finalists were judged on submitted recordings, video conference interviews and the proposals for creative projects they would undertake were they to win. Narroway’s fellow finalists were violinists Grace Clifford and Harry Ward, and cellist James Morley.

Richard NarrowayWinner of the 2020 Freedman Classical Fellowship Richard Narroway

The 29-year-old cellist returned to Australia several months ago after ten years of study and performances in the USA, with plans to re-establish himself in Australia – before the COVID-19 pandemic put those plans on hold.

“I am incredibly honoured to receive this prestigious fellowship, which will allow me to continue my lifelong quest of using music to connect with audiences and communities in exciting and innovative ways,” Narroway tells Limelight. “It brings me so much joy and gratitude to have this opportunity to carry out a project that I’ve dreamed of undertaking for so long. I must give enormous thanks to the panel of esteemed judges, for believing in my playing and my vision.”

The Freedman Classical Fellowship, which is managed by The Music Trust and administered and produced by Sydney Improvised Music Association, sees distinguished musicians from around the country invited to nominate candidates from whom the finalists are chosen.

“Even during challenging COVID-19 times, where there is a widespread uncertainty as to how and when the live performance sector might recover, each finalist produced imaginative and aspirational proposals, appropriate to the current status quo,” said Dr Stephen Mould, Senior Lecturer in Conducting and Operatic Studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and one of the Fellowship’s three judges. “They displayed creativity, ambitious aspiration, and a desire to find connection with the wider global community beyond the ‘classical music’ audience.”

“Richard Narroway displayed a maturity and sense of arrival in his career,” said Claire Edwardes, Artistic Director of Ensemble Offspring. “We very much hope that this fellowship will provide him with the opportunity to arrive back onto the Australian scene, having lived overseas in recent years. He is certainly one to watch out for.”

“As always, the Freedman fellowship draws in exceptional musicians at the beginning of a big career,” said Canberra International Music Festival Artistic Director Roland Peelman. “This year’s Fellowship process, affected by COVID-19, border closures and lock downs, did not fail to draw out some big ideas about music, renewal and audience engagement. Music’s agency in the social fabric of society, its community impact and untold potential in creating a better world were at the forefront of this year’s proposals like never before.”

“Absent the usual finalists’ concert, attention this year shifted to their projects, each of them quite distinctive,” said Dr Richard Letts from The Music Trust. “A complex creation of new composition, art and video; a concert tour of tiny country halls and a big contribution to a music for food program; showing the audience how performances, including musical improvisation, are created.”

Narroway’s project will see him tour a performance of ten Australian works for solo cello – including newly commissioned works alongside existing works by Elena Kats-Chernin, Ross Edwards, Peter Sculthorpe, and Carl Vine – which will be recorded and released as an album.

“What makes this different from a conventional tour, however, is that I plan to travel across the country aboard The Ghan, one of the world’s most iconic railway expeditions,” Narroway says. “This will undoubtedly lend a striking visual and narrative dimension to the endeavour, which I hope to capture on film to accompany the eventual recording release, and ultimately, to entice as broad a range of listeners to this music as possible.”

For Narroway, the album is about more than just Australian cello music. “It also encapsulates the story of my own musical journey, one that brought me overseas for the last ten years and only relatively recently back to my home country, where I hope to build my life,” he says. “Throughout this journey I have discovered an inexhaustible love for new music and for the process of commissioning and learning new works in a collaborative effort. But even more importantly, I have developed a real passion for connecting with audiences through music. This has become a central component of my artistic philosophy: to use my cello playing first and foremost to move people, and to make a positive and lasting impact in the process. Everything I do as a musician is propelled by this central goal, this project being no exception. I am thrilled, then, by the prospect of connecting with audiences around the country, using music that reflects my deepest convictions both as an artist and as a proud Australian.”