A major national prize for the Wagner bicentenary has been won by 17-year-old John Rotar.

Bundaberg is more famous for its rum than for classical music, but a 17-year-old local has beat out established composers and professional musicians from around the country to win the Wagner Bicentenary Composition Competition.

John Rotar’s piece for chamber orchestra was one of several scores submitted to Queensland’s Wagner Society by Australian and New Zealand hopefuls of all ages vying for a cash prize of $10,000 as well as a performance and recording of the winning work. With all entries received by the end of June 2012 and rendered anonymous for the panel’s six-month deliberation process, the judges were astonished to discover that the standout candidate was in fact the youngest, and a high-school student at that.

John’s original ten-minute composition, Ein Lied aus Murmeln grab Wagners(A Song From Wagner’s Murmuring Tomb), is scored for an unusual combination of 18 instruments including strings, harp, celesta, piano, piccolo and other winds. He estimates it took him six months to complete – factoring in writers’ block. “I hurried to put it together and I had about seven minutes done in just...