Life has its little ups and downs, but seldom so extreme as the ones that have just hit the composer Brett Dean.
Last month, the Australian government announced it was closing down the National Academy of Music, of which Dean is director. Dean, 47, had given up playing viola in Simon Rattle’s Berlin Philharmonic to help raise the next generation of Australian musicians in a so-called ‘centre of excellence’. But a new Labour government, suspicious of elitism, abolished ANAM by order of the arts minister, Peter Garrett, a retired rock singer, for a puny saving of less than US $2 million.
Dean was about to fly to Canberra to lead a string quartet protest at Parliament when a call came through this weekend from Louisville, Kentucky, telling him he had been chosen for the 2008 Grawemeyer Award, the richest prize for a contemporary composition, worth more than a year’s salary and a torrent of performances.
Dean is a modest sort of bloke. When I gave a talk at ANAM last year he seemed quietly in control and full of good ideas for fast-tracking young Aussies onto the world circuit. He loved the job, not least because it gave him time to compose without having to flog himself to death giving concerts all over the place.
The piece that won him the prize is called The Lost Art of Letter Writing, and it looks like turning into a very effective piece of political lobbying. Is the austere government of Kevin Rudd going to sack a man who has just put Australia onto the avant-garde map? Stand by for a smart u-turn.