Natalie Willians has won the 2018 Albert H Maggs Composition Award on the basis of her 2015 string octet Saudade. The Award consists of a commission to create a new musical work “of a substantial nature” and is worth approximately $7,000 for the creation of the piece, along with a performance subsidy of $3,000. It is open to any Australian composer who has been a continuous resident in Australia for at least two years before the closing of applications. A list of previous recipients and their commissioned work can be found on the Louise Hanson-Dyer Music Library’s Albert H Maggs Composition Award page.

Natalie Williams. Photograph © Megagraphics Photography

The judging panel described Williams’ Saudade as “a major work for string octet of convincing voice and energy” saying: “Right from the arresting opening, the work shows strong harmonic and rhythmic control over engaging material. It is finely crafted for string octet, a combination that Williams beautifully brings to life. The panel looks forward to hearing the new work that she will write as part of the Albert H Maggs commission.”

Speaking to Limelight, Williams says that winning the Award is acknowledgement of “recognition amongst a field of peers in that the previous winners are all strong compositional voices who have gone on to do very important work in Australian music. Their voices are the ones we look to as representative of the Australian music aesthetic in the contemporary era and so to be included in that list is very humbling. It’s a little bit validating.”

Williams is considering writing a string quartet. “The award conditions just state that a new piece should be a substantial work of some kind, so that can either be large in force like an orchestral piece or large in scope. A major string quartet, 30 minutes long, even if it’s for smaller forces, it’s still substantial in length and scope. And there are types of pieces that every composer should have in their catalogue. A symphony or big orchestral piece is one of them, a string quartet is another of them, a piano work is another – every composer must have something like this just to get your work out there in the field, so a string quartet is what I’m leaning to just right now. But the ideas are embryonic at this point. “

Williams has 18 months in which to write the piece, “so that is a nice amount of time. But the performance, I understand, can happen after that. So it’s up to two years for the whole thing to come to fruition but given that it’s a major milestone in a career, I’m glad to spend the time on it and have a pivotal piece that I can be really proud of.”

Williams has written the World Premiere column in Limelight’s January/February issue about her new work The Dreaming Land composed for British cellist Natalie Clein’s first Musica Viva tour.