Recently returned from the UK, the acclaimed Australian composer has been snapped up by the University of Sydney.

In exciting news, internationally acclaimed Australian composer Liza Lim is joining the composition unit at the University of Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music. Professor Lim recently returned to Australia after working overseas for the past nine years. The part-time appointment – her first major academic position in Australia – will bolster the efforts of the Con to nurture and mentor emerging women composers through its national women composer’s development programme, instigated last year.

 Professor Liza Lim joins the University of Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music. Photo by Raph Buckley

A highly regarded figure in Australian music, Lim is known for her intricately sensuous scores, with cross-cultural practice at the heart of her music. She was one of three women voted into the top ten when Limelight ran its Greatest Australian Composers poll in September 214.

Lim comes to her new role directly from the University of Huddersfield in the UK where she has spent the last eight years working as Professor of Composition and Director of the Centre for Research in New Music (CeReNeM), building the international reputation of the university’s postgraduate programme in new music.

“We are honoured to have a composer of Liza’s calibre and international status joining our staff and composition department to grow the prominence of women composers in Australia. We have much to learn from her experience and talent,” said University of Sydney’s Professor Anna Reid, Head of School and Dean at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Lim will work alongside a team of respected Australian composers including Professor Matthew Hindson, Carl Vine and Dr Paul Stanhope, and will help develop the next iteration of the national women composers’ development programme. Speaking to Limelight Lim says: “It’s nice to be back living in Australia and to get more involved and give back, and so on, so I’m really happy.”

Lim cites “the usual reasons – school, parents, family” for her return to Australia. “It was just a good time to come back,” says the composer who has a 15-year old son with husband Daryl Buckley, Artistic Director of the renowned Australian contemporary classical chamber group ELISION Ensemble.

As for her new appointment, she says the appeal is “to focus on the development of programmes that benefit women composers – which is something that I’ve become really interested in being involved with more recently, I guess. But obviously, I am working with the whole compositional community at Sydney Conservatorium, and women composers are not a homogenous group. We are talking about really diverse aesthetic positions and identities. I don’t want to go into an essentialist position about women’s music but I think if we are going to have art that really reflects our time and place we need to have greater inclusion and participation of women , as well as all other groups that are marginalised by class and sex and race. And all these things intersect as well.”

“I’ve been working at the University of Huddersfield in the UK for the last eight years,” she continues. “I haven’t specifically been promoting programmes for gender equality there, but I had a real turning point last year through a number of conference events where I really saw the difficulties of converting the gains in women’s participation into something more sustainable. There seems to be a kind of ceiling at the 22 percent mark. No matter how many women are participating, they make up 22 percent [of composers] which is very confronting.”

“Once upon a time I thought that things were getting incrementally better for women and I would have agreed with that old chestnut about quotas and the argument about quality over quotas but I’ve really changed my mind. I do believe that there is a necessity for greater intervention in order to get through that ceiling and that’s why I’ve become more proactive in the kind of work that I’ve been doing,” she says.

Now living in Melbourne, Lim will continue to work at the University of Huddersfield on a part-time basis. She will also be a Visiting Professor in Composition at Shanghai Conservatory, Beijing during 2017.

“I’ve got a few things to do,” she says with a laugh. “But it’s all extremely fascinating. Just to be involved in the continuing stories of different places and porgrammes is very exciting. And the world is much more interconnected now than it ever was so it’s not like ‘either-or’. You can maintain work across many places. It’s not like one has to totally leave one life for another, so that’s quite nice. Online communication and Skype all help with providing continuity.”

As for her own composition, Lim says that she has various projects on the go. “The academic work meshes very well with composition because it’s counted as research and is valued within institutions so that’s great and there’s no shortage of projects that I’m doing. Last year, I had my fourth opera performed in Germany [reviewed by Limelight]. I have other projects with ensembles around the world so I’m enjoying a really lucky mix of activities,” she says.

Of Chinese descent, Lim was born in Perth. After doing some of her primary schooling in Brunei, she went to high school at Presbyterian Ladies College, Melbourne where, as a young pianist and violinist, she was encouraged by teachers to do composition. She completed a Bachelor of Arts at the Victorian College of the Arts and a Master of Music at the University of Melbourne, followed by a Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Queensland.

She lived in Brisbane from 1978 to 2008, then spent a year in Berlin before moving to the UK. In 2008, she joined the University of Huddersfield. She has been commissioned by some of the world’s pre-eminent orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio Orchestra, BBC Symphony, and Germany’s WestdeutscherRundfunk and SudwestRundfunk orchestras, and was composer-in-residence at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra from 2005 to 2007.

Her compositions have featured at numerous international festivals and biennales, and she has also received several commissions from Australian festivals. She has collaborated closely with several ensembles including Australia’s ELISION Ensemble, since 1986. She has composed three operas: The Oresteia (1993), Moon Spirit Feasting (1999) and The Navigator (2008), which ELISION performed for nine seasons across major capitals cities in Australia, Japan and Europe. Her fourth and latest opera, Tree of Codes (2015) was commissioned and presented by Cologne Opera, Musikfabrik and Hellerau in Germany.

Other new composition appointments include digital music experts Dr Benjamin Carey and Dr Daniel Blinkhorn, as well as Dr Jade O’Regan who will teach in the new contemporary music programme launched by the Con in 2016. Dr Damien Ricketson, Program Leader in Composition and Music Technology at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, commented: “Professor Lim, Dr Blinkhorn and Dr Carey will enrich the depth and diversity of composition at the Con. Collectively, they bring a whole new level of knowledge and expertise, particularly in the areas of cross-cultural practice, digital and electronic music, and recording and interactive music design.”

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