Australian Brett Dean Wins Grawemeyer Award

Hear an excerpt of the winning composition below

Hear the Music

The composer, Brett Dean, conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, in an excerpt from the second movement of his Grawemeyer-winning composition.

More about the music

Violinist Frank Peter Zimmerman, who gave the world premiere of "The Lost Art of Letter Writing," talks with WGBH's Brian Bell about the music (recorded in October 2007).

Brett Dean

Australian composer Brett Dean has won the $200,000 Grawemeyer Award for his composition The Lost Art of Letter Writing. Robert Piccoli hide caption

itoggle caption Robert Piccoli

This year's Grawemeyer Music Prize has been awarded to Australian composer Brett Dean for his violin concerto, The Lost Art of Letter Writing.

The Grawemeyer Foundation, at the University of Louisville, announced the award Dec. 1. The Grawemeyer is one of the most lucrative prizes in the music world, worth $200,000. Prizes are also awarded in three additional categories: Education, Improving World Order and Religion. Past music winners have included Witold Lutoslawski, Toru Takemitsu, Gyorgy Ligeti, John Adams and, last year, Peter Lieberson.

Dean says he found inspiration in the fact that today's preferred modes of written communication have left the traditional hand-penned letter behind, replacing it with email and instant messaging.

"The art of writing a letter is rapidly disappearing and the very act of writing itself, as well," Dean says.

Each movement of Dean's 40-minute work is based on an excerpt from a letter written in the 19th century. The solo violin plays the role of both the letter-writers (Johannes Brahms, Vincent Van Gogh, Hugo Wolf and Australian outlaw Ned Kelly) and recipients.

The Lost Art of Letter Writing was commissioned by the Cologne Philharmonie and Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra for violinist Frank Peter Zimmerman, who gave both the world premiere with the Concertgebouw Orchestra and the U.S. premiere with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, both in 2007.

Dean himself is a string player. The 47-year-old composer performed in the viola section of the Berlin Philharmonic for 15 years, then in 2000 returned to Australia, where he became a resident artist with both the Melbourne and Cheltenham Festivals. Today, Dean continues as a violist and conductor at Australia's National Academy of Music.

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