Helen Gifford OAM heads the diverse list of artists and their notable works rewarded in Melbourne.

The winners of 2016’s culturally important Art Music Awards have been announced at a gala event held in Melbourne’s Plaza Ballroom. Raconteur and writer Jonathan Biggins hosted the celebrations with his usually mixture of wit and ocassional waspishness, while taking aim at a fair few politicians along the way. The procedings featured musical performances by soloists and ensembles including Speak Percussion and the Australian Art Orchestra, and presenters included Waleed Aly, Mairi Nicolson, Merlyn Quaife and Katie Noonan.

The Award for Distinguished Services to Australian Music was presented to 80-year-old composer Helen Gifford OAM in recognition of a long and illustrious career. Born in Victoria in 1953, Gifford regularly wrote music for Melbourne Theatre Company productions in the 1970s, and in 1974 she joined the Australian Opera as composer-in-residence. Describing herself as “a proud modernist”, Gifford has written a wide range of compositions including dramatic works, chamber music and vocal pieces.

Helen Gifford and Dr Paul Crotty

This year the Orchestral Work of the Year went to the epic Earth Plays by Catherine Milliken. The composition in six parts for orchestra and mezzo soprano was premiered by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in 2015. According to the composer, the work seeks “to revive the acoustic echoes of the law gatherings at AlÞing, Þingvellir in Iceland, the ancient Greek theatre pieces at Epidauros, Greece, the beautiful carvings at Tono in Northern Japan and the first opening of the Radio City Hall, New York.”

Paul Grabowsky, the Young Wägilak Group and the Monash Art Ensemble received the award for Jazz Work of the Year for their collaboration on Nyilipidgi. Blending the musical heritage of Australia’s first people with contemporary composition and improvisation, the collaboration premiered at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre and celebrates the reconciliatory power of music, as musicians from the world’s oldest living culture performed alongside some of the country’s finest jazz artists.

Paul Grabowsky

Instrumental Work of the Year went to Kate Neal’s Semaphore, a collaboration with choreographer Timothy Walsh and director Laura Sheedy. The work combines theatrics, animation, music and dance to create “an intriguing multimedia exploration of signalling, communication and miscommunication”. The performance of Semaphore, by the Semaphore band and dancers, pulled off a double whammy by winning this year’s Performance of the Year award as well.

Composer Andrew Schultz won Vocal / Choral Work of the Year for Le Molière Imaginaire, his hilarious take on the medical profession composed for the eight voices of British a cappella ensemble I Fagiolini. He shared the award with Timothy Knapman who adapted the text from the final scene of Molière’s Le Malade Imaginaire. Reviewing Le Molière Imaginaire (Or: Keep Your Enemas Closer), the reviewer for Limelight wrote: This work should perhaps have come with a parental advisory… If there was a mild possibility of offence at the lyrics, certainly none could be taken at the music, which leaned heavily towards the humorous rather than ironic. Needless to say, the singers delivered the work with great gusto, not least the final lines, ‘Infirmity’s eternal fountain, long hard bouts of burning piss!’”

Meanwhile, in another double whammy, the Award for Excellence by an Organisation went to Ensemble Offspring for their “sustained services to Australian music for 20 years”, and the Award for Excellence by an Individual went to percussionist and artistic director Claire Edwardes “for performance, advocacy and artistic leadership”.

Claire Edwardes

Speak Percussion won the Award for Excellence in Experimental Music recognising their work in the fields of experimental and contemporary classical music, and the Award for Excellence in Jazz went to Australian Jazz Real Book for the Australian Jazz Real Book, a publication dedicated to the preservation and distribution of Australian jazz in both digital and print formats.

The popular Moorambilla Voices received the Award for Excellence in a Regional Area for its 10th anniversary season and the Award for Excellence in Music Education was won by Artology for its Fanfare Competition. An additional eight state and territory awards recognised performances, compositions and contributions to the art music community that happened all over Australia in 2015.

In a traditional moment of reflection and remembrance, AMC CEO John Davis paid tribute to members of the music community who have passed away over the year, a roster that included actress and singer Helen Noonan, composer and Bangarra Dance Theatre songman Roy David Page, jazz pianist and composer Bryce Rohde, composer Roger Smalley and Catherine Sullivan, as well as New Zealand composer Jack Body.

In a final piece of welcome news, APRA AMCOS CEO Brett Cottle announced that the Art Music Fund will be open for its second round of applications this November. The fund offers $100,000 in grants specifically to support art music composers create new, commissioned work designed to be performed extensively. This year, a diverse group of 12 composers (45% of them women) from all across the country were awarded grants.

Australia’s only national event to acknowledge the achievements and contributions of Australian composers, performers and educators in the fields of contemporary art music, jazz and experimental music, the Art Music Awards are staged annually by APRA AMCOS and the Australian Music Centre (AMC).

A full list of winners, as well as information on applications for the 2017 Art Music Fund are available on the APRA AMCOS website.