Sydney Symphony prize for Conservatorium composer

Volume 8 Number 3 March 12 - April 8 2012

Image courtesy ABC Archives
Image courtesy ABC Archives

Composition lecturer at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Elliott Gyger has won the Sydney Symhony Orchestra’s 80th anniversary composition prize with his work ‘on air: dialogue for orchestra’.

The work will be performed in a series of celebratory concerts at the iconic Sydney Opera House on 22, 23 and 24 March under the baton of Principal Conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy.

In late 2011, 76 composers from around Australia ranging in age from 16 to 70 submitted works as part of the Sydney Symphony’s 80th anniversary composition prize.

Mr Gyger says he is thrilled to have won the competition.

“My father is a music critic and I went to every Sydney Symphony subscription concert throughout my high school years. When I think of orchestral sound I think of the Sydney Symphony in the Opera House concert hall – that’s my reference point,” he says.

“What a joy it will be for one of my compositions to be performed by these wonderful musicians and to hear what kinds of insights Mr Ashkenazy brings to the piece.”

In writing the nine-minute work, Mr Gyger says he took inspiration from the history of the ABC (which also turns 80 in 2012) and the history of the Sydney Symphony and its origins as a broadcast orchestra.

“I took inspiration from a photo on the Sydney Symphony website (pictured) showing 17 musicians who formed part of the ABC studio orchestra in the 1930s.

“My piece starts with those 17 players and then the rest of the orchestra joins them. I thought it was a really interesting idea and I just ran with it,” he says.

Mr Gyger has for the past four years been a lecturer in composition at the University of Melbourne. Prior to this, he undertook graduate study in composition at Harvard University in the US and was then Assistant Professor of Music at Harvard from 2002 to 2007.

The Sydney Symphony composition prize was open to all Australians who had never had a work performed by the Sydney Symphony in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall.

According to Sydney Symphony Director of Artistic Planning, Peter Czornyj, the judging panel (composers Matthew Hindson and Mary Finsterer, Sydney Symphony Education Program Artistic Director Richard Gill, and CEO of the Australian Music Centre John Davis) were encouraged by the high level of accomplishment revealed in many of the submissions. “In choosing a winner, the panel was focused on identifying a finely textured and well-structured composition, showing mature sensitivity to the practicality of performance,” Mr Czornyj says.

“The winning composition also needed to fulfill the objective of celebrating the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Sydney Symphony in 1932, while also taking inspiration from other anniversaries in 2012 – the ABC and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Elliott Gyger’s work embodies all these facets.”

On top of having his work performed at the Sydney Opera House in March, Mr Gyger has also received a $5000 prize and one of the performances will be broadcast nationally on ABC Classic FM.