Brett Dean

Homage to letter-writing earns Grawemeyer music prize

“The Lost Art of Letter Writing,” a four-movement concerto for violin and orchestra by Australian composer Brett Dean, earned the 2009 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition. The work, commissioned by the Cologne Philharmonie and Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra for violinist Frank Peter Zimmerman, was chosen for the prize from among 145 entries worldwide. Dean conducted and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam accompanied when the piece premiered in 2007 in Cologne.

“It’s a wonderful solo vehicle that also contains terrific writing for orchestra,” said Marc Satterwhite, a UofL music professor who directs the award.

Each movement in the half-hour concerto begins with an excerpt from a 19th-century letter, with a violin evoking the mood of each letter as it plays the alternate roles of writer and recipient. Authors of the letters include composers Johannes Brahms and Hugo Wolf, artist Vincent Van Gogh and Australian outlaw Ned Kelly.

“The piece combines the brilliant surface one might expect from a Romantic era violin concerto with enormous emotional range and depth,” Satterwhite said.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra performed the concerto for the first time in the United States in 2007.

Dean, the first composer from Australia to win the music award, played in the viola section of the Berlin Philharmonic for 15 years, leaving in 2000 to devote more time to writing music. He continues to perform as a violist and conductor and is artistic director of the Australian National Academy of Music.

Listen to a sample of The Lost Art of Letter Writing

His other compositions include Carlo, a piece for strings, sampler and tape; a ballet, One of a Kind, and a clarinet concerto, Ariel’s Music.

The Grawemeyer Awards at U of L annually awards $1 million — $200,000 each — for outstanding works in music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology, education and religion.

About Brett Dean

Australian composer and violist Brett Dean is the 23rd winner of the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition. The $200,000 international cash prize, given since 1985, previously has gone to such 20th and 21st century musical luminaries as Witold Lutoslawski, Gyorgy Ligeti and Pierre Boulez.

Dean studied in Brisbane until 1984, when he moved to Germany to join the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra’s viola section, a position he held for 15 years.

He began composing in 1988, becoming established in his own right through works such as Ariel’s Music, a clarinet concerto that won an award from the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers; a piano quintet, Voices of Angels, and Twelve Angry Men, a piece written for the 12 cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic.

In 2000, he returned to Australia, winning the Paul Lowin Song Cycle Prize for Winter Songs in 2001. In 2002-03, he was artist-in-residence with the Melbourne Symphony and composer in residence at the Cheltenham Festival.

Dean’s most widely-known work, Carlo, a piece for strings, sampler and tape, was inspired by the music of Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo. His other scores include Beggars and Angels (1999), commissioned by Melbourne Symphony Orchestra; Pastoral Symphony (2001), written for Ensemble Modern, and Testament (2003), a work for the Berlin Philharmonic’s 12 violas.

His Moments of Bliss earned Best Composition Award at the 2005 Australian Classical Music Awards.

Besides composing, Dean has conducted performances by many orchestras, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, BBC Philharmonic, Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, West Australian Symphony Orchestra and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

Boosey & Hawkes, an international company specializing in 20th century classical music, publishes Dean’s work, including the Grawemeyer Award-winning concerto.

For more information, contact Marc Satterwhite at 502-852-1787 or by e-mail.

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