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Mietta Song Competition Winners

by Suzanne Yanko

News has just come to hand of the winners of the 2016 Mietta Song Competition winners, with Sydney-based soprano Laura King taking out first prize (the Mietta prize). Her program included music by Berg and Ravel, Beath’s Yunggamurra, works by Duparc, Ives, Rachmaninoff and (appropriately) Barber’s Sure On This Shining Night from his Four Songs op. 13.

Dedicated to promoting the performance and wider appreciation of Art Song, the Mietta Song Competition is a biennial contest for classical singers and pianists. The 2016 finals were held on July 17 at the Australian National Academy of Music, South Melbourne. This year’s judging panel consisted of Professor Mel Waters, Dame Felicity Lott, Peter Coleman-Wright and Caroline Almonte.

In addition to the $5000 awarded for first prize, Laura won the O’Donnell family prize and the Arnold and Mary Bram prize for best Australian song. Receiving second prize was soprano Zoe Drummond.

The Hugh D. T. Williamson prize (for the first prize pianist) of $5000 was awarded to Laura’s accompanist Jonathan Wilson, whilst the second placed pianist was Benjamin Burton, who accompanied Zoe. The audience choice prize went to Melbourne countertenor Max Riebl.

The exceptional standard of performances and enthusiastic audience response was a credit to the legacy of Mietta O’Donnell.

About the Mietta Song Competition

The Competition website gives the following background to this prestigious event.

The Mietta Song Competition (formerly the Mietta Song Recital Award) sprang from an idea of the late Michael Easton and his partner Len Vorster. It came into being at Mietta’s, the Melbourne restaurant in which the late Mietta O’Donnell and her partner Tony Knox established a salon of all the arts, and especially music. In 1995, supported by the distinguished singer, Lauris Elms, it was initiated as an award to foster art song, that intimate partnership of voice and piano which may seem small indeed, but which can nevertheless pack more punch in one minute than an aria or chorus ten times longer and louder.

The annual competitions were conducted by Mietta from 1995 until her untimely death early in 2001 and, from 1996, were known as the City of Melbourne Song Recital Award. The Mietta Foundation, formed to honour Mietta’s memory and continue her activities, enabled a renamed Mietta Song Recital Award Committee to revive the competition, very successfully, in April 2003.

From the beginning, the Award aimed to assist singers to develop their skills, in Master Classes conducted by distinguished performers at the time of the competition, and, by providing opportunities for study and performance in Australia and overseas, to further their careers. For example, the winner of the 2006 competition, Alexandra Sherman, has since appeared in John Adams’ Nixon in China at the English National Opera; Rossini’s La Donna del Lago at Garsington Opera; and Opera Australia’s production of Alcina. Award-winning accompanist, Amir Farid, is one of Melbourne’s most admired pianists and a member of the prize-winning Benaud Trio. And the 2010 winner, James Roser, has been performing at the Victorian Governor’s Recital Series at Government House and throughout Australia and overseas.

Art song is a demanding discipline, requiring perfect cooperation between singer and pianist in matching words and music, and communicating both to the audience. The process of the Award is, however, relatively simple: Entrants perform three songs, differing in period and in style, to a live audition panel. The audition panel selects up to eight semi-finalists, inviting them (and some others) to participate in Master Classes before the weekend of the competition, when the distinguished judges select up to four finalists and award the various prizes.

Since there is also an audience prize, those attending need to know that the criteria applied by the judges include: understanding of the genre; choice of material; musicianship; technical competence; rapport with the audience; pronunciation and interpretation of languages; and versatility in program. Semi-finalists must present, in their allotted fifteen minutes, songs (in more than one language), each from a different music period, ranging from classical to contemporary. Finalists devise their own thirty-minute programs to satisfy the judging criteria.

Performing an art song may be more like painting a miniature than a mural, but the result can be stupendous.

The photo is of 2016 winner Laura King. It was taken by Laura Black.

For more information, contact Tess Smurthwaite on 0405 752 168 or at TSmurthwaite@gmail.com



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