Amid the distressing cascade of cancellations due to COVID-19, it was heartening to see that Musica Viva Australia and its Artistic Director of Competitions, Wilma Smith, were determined to forge ahead and bring us the 2021 edition of Strike A Chord. It became increasingly likely that few of the twelve chamber music ensembles making it to the Grand Final would be able to perform live, but some did manage to avoid lockdown restrictions. Most importantly, we were given the opportunity to enjoy the extraordinary talents of all the Australian secondary school student finalists.
Sifting through the more than five hundred participants was an amazingly complex operation and, under the guidance of Wilma Smith, it took the energies and resources of many people and organisations to ensure a successful outcome. Although Sunday afternoon’s broadcast suffered a series of technical glitches, the listening experience – as opposed to the viewing experience – was not unduly affected. Besides which, the registered audience was given the chance to watch the competition again for forty-eight hours without the glitches, and marvel at the technical skill and musical maturity of the performers.
Fiona Campbell’s charm and enthusiasm created a warm, positive atmosphere as she introduced each ensemble. Short excerpts from performances by groups who had not quite made it into the Grand Final were welcome supplements during the interval and while members of the jury reached their many decisions.
In addition to the information provided by Musica Viva below, it is also worth mentioning that a Chat facility was offered so that listeners could comment on the performances as they proceeded. Other organisations, such as Melbourne Digital Concert Hall, do the same; however, Musica Viva personnel had their work cut out monitoring the comments. Most were very supportive of the young musicians but a minority abused the system. I hope this doesn’t deter Musica Viva from using it in the future, especially as it could be turned off if proving to be too distracting. One example of the Chat’s usefulness was apparent when Musica Viva responded to someone writing that they hadn’t realized singers were eligible, assuring them that the only condition of entry was that all ensembles must perform classical repertoire. It was also comforting to be reassured that it was not just our devices at fault when technical issues arose.
A further point of interest is that the Australian composition performed by the vocal quartet False Relations was Paul Stanhope’s “I have not your dreaming”, described – possibly by Stanhope himself – as being: “for SSAA choir. The text is a tribute to Aboriginal poet Oodgeroo Noonccal. For the adventurous treble choir!” The four teenagers from New South Wales, who won the Gandel Australian Music Prize were outstanding in their blended harmonies and assured performance. They already have a devoted following on social media.
Complementing the extensive list of prizes awarded to the twelve finalists was a similarly lengthy list of First Round Prize Winners, including an unusual item: The Spirit of Chamber Music Prize. The $200 prize, provided by renowned violinist Elizabeth Sellars in memory of John and Lesley Sellars, was “for a group who the jury feels in some way touches upon the essential character and/or spirituality of a work, and does not progress to the Semi Finals”. It was awarded to the MLC School Vocal Consort from New South Wales. As a member of the Sutherland Trio, Sellars is also thrilled at the prospect of working with this year’s winners, the tremendously impressive Amogus Trio as part of Sutherland Trio Mentorship Prize Both trios are, of course, piano trios.
Photo of Amogus Trio (violinist Anna Suzuki, cellist Joshua Jones, and pianist Jeremy Sun) supplied.
The following is the announcement released by Musica Viva giving details of the competition and the major prize winners. Further details can be found on the Musica Viva website and via the Strike A Chord Facebook page.
Amogus Trio announced as winners of Strike A Chord
Musica Viva Australia have announced Amogus Trio as the winners of Strike A Chord 2021. Hailing from Queensland, the ensemble has been awarded the Robert Salzer Prize, worth $5,000.
Strike A Chord is a national chamber music championship for secondary school ensembles. The competition was created to encourage the next generation of Australian musicians to experience the life-changing possibilities of chamber music, giving students the opportunity to explore their potential and discover the joy of making music with friends.
This year’s competition was presented online to ensure all ensembles across Australia were able to compete amid border closures and travel restrictions. Twelve ensembles competed in the Grand Final, with ensembles performing live in their home states where restrictions allowed.
The 2021 jury was comprised of Melbourne Recital Centre CEO, Euan Murdoch; Professor in Violin and Head of Strings at the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University, Michele Walsh; Ensemble Offspring’s Claire Edwardes; mezzo Dimity Shepherd; and pianist and composer Ian Munro.
Musica Viva Australia’s Artistic Director of Competitions Wilma Smith said, “Today’s Grand Final demonstrated that the future of Australian music is safe hands. Congratulations to all our young musicians for their wonderful performances. Accomplished and inspirational music-making across the board made the jury’s job extremely difficult and signals a bright future for Australian music. The performance from the winning ensemble, the Amogus Trio, demonstrated an incredible level of maturity and sophistication for a student group. We will be watching out for these brilliant young musicians as they go on to forge their careers”.
The winners of the 2020 Strike A Chord Grand Final are:
FIRST PRIZE ($5,000) The Robert Salzer Prize: Amogus Trio, QLD
SECOND PRIZE ($4,000) The Paul Morawetz Prize: JPMS Ensemble Spirito, QLD
THIRD PRIZE ($2,500) The Laura Brown Prize: False Relations, NSW
AUDIENCE PRIZE ($2,000): The Peter Druce Prize:JPMS Ensemble Spirito, QLD
Also presented at the Final was the Gandel Australian Music Prize. Awarded to False Relations from Sydney, for the best performance of an Australian work, this prize recognises the importance of supporting Australian composition.
More than one hundred ensembles across Australia entered Strike A Chord in 2021, with 15 groups competing in the new Yamaha Novice Section, open to groups whose members are playing at a maximum of AMEB Grade 4 level (or equivalent).
CEO of Musica Viva Australia, Hywel Sims, said, “In such challenging times, it’s an inspiration to see the versatility, hard work and sheer talent that has gone into these outstanding performances. Particularly thanks to the teachers, parents and all who have supported these young musicians to take on this challenge.”
Minister for Creative Industries, Danny Pearson MP, said, “I applaud the work that the Musica Viva Australia team, and their many collaborators, have done to ensure that Strike A Chord reached as many students as possible, and to continually adapt to changing circumstances and deliver it flexibly as needed. It is also a testament to the tenacity and resilience of the students and all who’ve supported them.”
Strike A Chord is underpinned by support from Principal Partner Creative Victoria, Strategic Partners Melbourne Recital Centre and the Australian National Academy of Music, Key Philanthropic Partners Gandel Philanthropy, The Robert Salzer Foundation and Yamaha Music Australia.
Prizes awarded during the 2021 Grand Final
First Prize – The Robert Salzer Prize $5,000 Awarded by the Robert Salzer Foundation who are long-term supporters of the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition and who have been instrumental in helping to shape the first two years of Strike A Chord. In awarding this prize, Musica Viva also recognises the Robert Salzer Foundation’s ongoing commitment to this important initiative and their desire to provide meaningful opportunities for young musicians in Australia. Winner: Amogus Trio
Second Prize – The Paul Morawetz Prize $4,000 This prize is supported by the Morawetz family in memory of Paul Morawetz who was one of the founding figures of Musica Viva in Melbourne. It acknowledges the importance of nurturing young talent and a generation of concert artists. Winner: JPMS Ensemble Spirito
Third Prize – The Laura Brown Prize $2,500 – In memory of Laura Brown The Laura Brown Prize is supported by Beth Brown and the late Tom Bruce AM in memory of Beth’s mother. Winner: False Relations
Audience Prize – The Peter Druce Prize $2,000 This generous prize of $2,000 cash is provided by the Druce family in memory of the late Peter Druce. Peter was a Melbourne lawyer and Arts patron with a particular interest in music and supporting young artists. Winner: JPMS Ensemble Spirito
Australian National Academy of Music Prize This prize is awarded to an outstanding string quartet that ANAM faculty believe will benefit from an intensive residency at the institution. The winning ensemble will receive 1 week’s coaching at ANAM in 2022, culminating in a performance opportunity. The prize will also include travel and accommodation in Melbourne for the residency week. Winner: Piccolo String Quartet
ANAM have very generously decided to give an additional Encouragement Award this year, comprising a tutorial and performance in one of their chamber music classes. Encouragement Award – James Campbell String Quartet
All groups that do not receive 1st, 2nd or 3rd place prizes will receive a Finalist Award certificate plus $500 cash.
3MBS Prize Awarded by the Jury to the top two groups from Victoria. A live to air performance on 3MBS for the winning ensembles in one of their concert programs at a date suitable for both parties, including streaming + interview + social media. Ensembles will also receive a copy of their performance recording. Winners: Trio Finifugal and VDub
Galston Concerts Prizes Up to two ensembles will be chosen from Strike A Chord 2021 Finalist and/or Reserve Finalist Ensembles from the Greater Sydney Area, based on availability and in consultation with The Galston Concerts management. Performances will take place at the 2021 Galston Gala on November 21*. Winning ensembles will be offered a performance fee of $200 per player with a maximum fee payable of $1,000 per ensemble. *Should COVID-19 events and/or restrictions impact the Galston Concerts Gala in 2021, reasonable attempts will be made to reschedule the performances in 2022 Winners: Bartholdy Trio and Piccolo String Quartet
Bendigo Chamber Music Festival Prize Awarded by the Jury, in consultation with BCMF Artistic Administration, the winning group/groups will be invited to give a 45min performance as part of the 2022 Bendigo Chamber Music Festival (travel and accommodation provided). In addition to the performance, the group/s will have opportunities to engage with professional artists in an educational context including participation in masterclasses and attendance at other Festival concerts. Winners: Amogus Trio and Piccolo String Quartet
Sutherland Trio Mentorship Prize A 12 month mentorship with the Sutherland Trio, awarded by the Jury in consultation with Sutherland Trio to a piano trio that shows commitment and potential to take their ensemble to the next level. The prize includes 8 x 1-hour coaching sessions, Unlimited access to any Sutherland Trio rehearsals, and a collaborative performance with Sutherland Trio to be held at Melbourne Digital Concert Hall. Travel to Melbourne may be subsidised where required. Winner: Amogus Trio
Flinders Quartet Mentorship Prize Awarded to a string quartet that shows commitment and potential to take their ensemble to the next level. The prize includes mentorship sessions with Flinders Quartet members; sessions on group development, career planning and concert presentation; performance in a Flinders Quartet concert; travel to and accommodation in Melbourne if required; and the opportunity to observe the Flinders Quartet in rehearsal throughout the year. Winner: Piruli String Quartet
Gandel Australian Music Prize Generously supported by Gandel Philanthropy, this prize is awarded for the best performance of an Australian work, which may include student compositions. In addition to receiving $2,000 cash, if the winner of this prize is not already in the final, the group will be invited to give a special performance at an appropriate time during the finals event. Travel to Melbourne will be subsidised where required. Winner: False Relations
First Round Prize Winners
AMEB Emerging Ensemble Encouragement Award $1,000 worth of sheet music for a group that shows a need for additional resources. Winner: Shearwater Trio – NSW
AMEB Emerging Ensemble Encouragement Award $1,000 worth of sheet music for a group that shows a need for additional resources. Winner: Bellissimo Flute Ensemble – QLD
Innovation Award $500 cash for the ensemble who throws the most interesting light on what chamber music can be. Winner: Baroque Ensemble – SA
The Spirit of Chamber Music Prize $200 cash Generously provided by Elizabeth Sellars, in memory of John and Lesley Sellars. For a group who the jury feels in some way touches upon the essential character and/or spirituality of a work, and does not progress to the Semi Finals. Winner: MLC School Vocal Consort – NSW