Pianist’s win is one of the few awards to make any sense in a hopeless muddle of misjudged categorisations.

Pianist Tamara-Anna Cislowska has won Best Classical Album at this year’s ARIA Awards in a ceremony held this morning. Her double CD of the complete solo piano works of the late Peter Sculthorpe was a clear front runner having received favourable reviews at home and abroad. Otherwise the ARIA organisers outdid themselves by shoehorning mismatched and eclectic albums into meaningless categories before letting albums win that by most stretches of the imagination shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

It was another good year for ABC Music, recognised with three ARIA Awards in the Fine Arts categories. However the morning’s event (whoever holds awards in the morning?) was the usual frustrating dual-purpose affair that saw the classical music, jazz and world music winners wrapped up quietly, and where more column inches will invariably be expended on the simultaneously announced nominations in the ‘popular’ music categories. Rock and pop lovers will as usual be spared sitting through such tiresome musical genres at the big event next month on November 26.

Cislowska, a close friend of Sculthorpe since she performed his piano concerto at the tender age of 14 with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, was the composer’s own choice for the winning recording completed shortly before his death in 2014. She saw off hot competition from Amy Dickson’s stellar Sculthorpe, Edwards and Dean saxophone ‘concerti’ album (Island Songs), pianist Sally Whitwell’s disc of her own engaging compositions (I Was Flying), the Grigoryan brothers latest duos album (This Time) and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s 25th anniversary birthday CD.

Meanwhile, in an incomprehensible piece of mis-categorisation, the Best Original Soundtrack/Cast/Show Album was won not by the splendid film scores for Paper Planes (Nigel Westlake), The Water Diviner or Last Cab to Darwin (Ed Kuepper), nor even the magnificent Opera Australia recording of Brett Dean’s opera Bliss (not exactly everyone’s typical ‘cast album’) but by Beat the Drum: a live album celebrating 40 Years of triplej – a great concert, but ‘fine art’ – really?

In the other categories, Best Jazz Album went to Mooroolbark by Barney McAll while Best World Music Album went to Gurrumul for his gospel album, though why the ARIAs lump music by First Australians into world music is nobodies business. Recordist Genevieve Lacey and accordionist James Crabb’s engrossing album Heard This and Thought of You was also inexplicably consigned to this category despite containing music by Bach, Palestrina, Locke and Diego Ortiz alongside contemporary classical music by Damien Barbeler, Andrea Keller and Sally Beamish. Go figure.

Unlike the meagre opportunities for ‘classical’ artists who are all crammed into just the one category, the 18 awards in the ‘main’ ARIAS allow individual artists to be recognised quite separately from albums and bands. They also appear to have a Best Male Artist Award and no Best Female Artist Award. Frankly it looks like it’s time for the organisers to sit down and have a good think about what they are trying to achieve here.

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