Currently clocking in at over three decades and counting, the Art Music Awards have had more reboots than Star Trek. Don’t be fooled though. They may have changed their name twice, but they are just as vital a part of the Australian classical music scene now as they were back in 1988 when Australian Music Centre General Manager Richard Letts launched the inaugural Sounds Australian Awards.

Australian Music Centre CEO John Davis. All photos supplied

Back then it was a modest, no-frills event held in a gallery in Sydney’s CBD. John Davis, the AMC’s current CEO, first attended the awards the following year as a staffer. “My role was to play 30-second musical excerpts of finalists’ work on a small stereo system, which we had brought in for the occasion, compiled on a cassette tape,” he recalls. “Somewhat different to what happens now.”

In its first iteration, the Sounds Australian Awards had a bit of a larrikin feel about them with a bolshy edge that today’s smoother-tongued event has left behind. Along with the usual “Most distinguished contribution to...