Melbourne composer Christine McCombe is the winner of this year’s Pythia Prize. The composition prize is now in its second year and open to female and non-binary identifying Australian composers of any age. It is run by the Melbourne-based Rubiks Collective, who will collaborate with the winner on a new composition. McCombe will receive a $4,000 honorarium as well as a recording of Rubiks performing the new piece.

McCombe, who told Limelight she is “honoured and excited” to win the prize, has lots of ideas for the new work. “But I’m going to wait and see what emerges once our collaboration begins,” she says. “For me this is one of the most exciting aspects of starting a new project.  Although I’ve worked with several of the Rubiks members before, I’m really looking forward to working with them as a group, to get to know how they work together and to see where this will take us. We’re keen to incorporate some electroacoustic elements into the work, so that is something we can explore.”

Christine McCombe, Pythia Prize, Rubiks CollectiveWinner of the 2018 Pythia Prize, Christine McCombe. Photo: supplied

“Working with musicians as skilled, curious and adventurous as the Rubiks line-up will be an absolute joy,” she says. “As a composer I believe it is vital to keep being challenged and extended and I know that working with Rubiks will provide this impetus to move into new compositional territory.”

McCombe, who studied with James MacMillan in the UK, has had commissions from the Australia Ensemble, Musica Viva Australia, The Australian Chamber Choir and Plexus Collective in Australia and the Society for the Promotion of New Music and Artisan Trio in the UK. A new album of her work, three kinds of silence, has just been released on the Tall Poppies label.

“As a ‘mid-career’ composer this prize feels like an acknowledgement and an incentive to keep exploring new musical ideas,” she says. “Fifteen or twenty years ago I had the luxury of being able to focus almost exclusively on composition, free to move cities or countries to follow my career aspirations. Now, with two children at school and a mortgage to contribute to, my life is more complicated and my decisions are more about what works for my family. Winning the Pythia Prize allows me to ‘buy’ some time to compose, to take some time out to refocus my creative energy on a new and exciting project.”

Samantha Wolf, who won the inaugural Pythia Prize last year, has since had her work Want Not performed in Melbourne, Sydney, Darmstadt, Berlin, Manchester and Amsterdam as part of Rubiks’ first international tour.

Prizes like the Pythia Prize, which create opportunities for female and non-binary composers, are “really important”, McCombe says. “Although things are gradually shifting, contemporary music composition is still unbalanced in terms of gender representation,” she says. “Prizes such as this offer encouragement and validation of the work of female and non-binary identifying composers, of all ages, going a long way to ensuring that our musical landscape is representative and inclusive.”

“Our musical culture can only be strengthened and enriched by the presence of many diverse compositional voices,” she says. “I feel so hopeful for younger generations of female and non-binary identifying composers who are emerging, knowing that their voices are valued and promoted regardless of gender.”