Melbourne’s Rubiks Collective has initiated a prize to address the underrepresentation of female composers in Australia.

Samantha Wolf has won the inaugural Pythia Prize, a new commission project launched by Melbourne’s Rubiks Collective in order to help address the underrepresentation of female composers in Australia.

Rubiks was described by Limelight earlier this year as “one of the most exciting ensembles gracing Australia’s contemporary music stage”. As the winner of the Pythia Prize, Wolfe will collaborate with the Collective to create a new work to be premiered next year. It will have performances in Australia and in Europe when Rubiks tours internationally for the first time in July. Wolfe will receive a $2,000 honorarium and a recording of Rubiks performing the new work.

Samantha Wolf. Photograph supplied.

The Prize was presented to Wolfe last night at Melbourne Recital Centre at a Rubiks concert honouring American composer Meredith Monk, a female pioneer of unique creativity. The concert was a celebration of Monk’s 75th birthday and a retrospective of her career, pairing some of her most recent works – including the Australian premieres of Backlight (2015) and Real Variations (2012) – with some of her most popular early works. Rubiks was inspired to launch the Pythia Prize to honour Monk’s legacy, and hopes to present it annually.

Wolf is an Australian composer, sound artist, and arts administrator based in Melbourne. A graduate of the Queensland and Melbourne conservatoriums, and the recipient of numerous awards, her practice encompasses instrumental and vocal works, interdisciplinary collaborations, multimedia, noise and speech-based works, electroacoustic works, and tape. She has worked with many of Australia’s leading new music ensembles, including the Melbourne and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestras, The Song Company, Ensemble Liaison, the Horsley Williams Duo, and Kupka’s Piano, with whom she is an Associate Artist. She won the Melbourne Recital Centre and University of Melbourne Composition Award for 2017.

Speaking to Limelight, Wolf says that she feels “completely elated and honoured”, to have won the Pythia Prize. “Rubiks are an incredibly talented and creative group, and I can’t wait to work with them to create something really special. I’m particularly thrilled that we’ll get to work on a collaborative project together. Composing can be an isolating activity, so being able to share the experience throughout the project is a real pleasure. You never really know where an idea will take you when you open it up to others, so I think it’ll be a really fun adventure!” she says.

Wolf acknowledges the importance of such an initiative to help boost the number of female composers working in Australia. “I think most new music practitioners acknowledge the need for initiatives that redress structural barriers to participation and success in the arts, and there’s been a lot of excellent work done in this area recently. I applaud Rubiks and others, especially Ensemble Offspring, Speak Percussion, Musica Viva and the Sydney Conservatorium, who are leading the way in this regard. I must also acknowledge the amazing work and support from online communities, especially Making Waves, Listening to Ladies and Many Many Women, which I think helped bring this conversation to the fore.”

This will be the first time that Wolf has collaborated with the entire Rubiks ensemble but she has worked with most of the musicians individually. As for the project she will create with them, she says: “In the spirit of collaboration, I wouldn’t want to be too prescriptive at this early stage. It’s important to me that this project be as collaborative as possible, and I’m pretty much open to anything!”

“Having said that, there are a few threads in my work that I would love to explore more. I’m fascinated with the relationship between music and the body, particularly how physical experiences can be understood through sound (and vice versa). It would be interesting to see how we could transform that into an immersive experience for the listener. I’ve also been delving into electroacoustic music, particularly the combination of live instruments with tape. The tension between immovable and flexible sonic materials is something I find really intriguing, so that would be fun to explore as well. But I think the first few sessions will just be throwing some ideas around and seeing what sticks.”

Asked about she feels about the work being performed in Europe, she says:

“It’s incredibly exciting! I think it’ll be a fun challenge to create something that works as well on tour as it does at home. I’m also really proud to see how far Rubiks have come in just a few short years. Australia really does punch above its weight in the new music world, and it’s always so inspiring to see our musicians slaying it overseas. When I look at ensembles like Rubiks, I know that the future of Aussie music is in excellent hands.”


Samantha Wolfe’s latest piece, There is only now, is being premiered by Ensemble Liaison at Melbourne Recital Centre tonight at 7pm as part of a concert called The End of Time.

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