Deborah Cheetham AO is the Artistic Director of Short Black Opera.
The 2019 Melbourne Prize For Music And Awards has recognised the career and cultural contributions of Deborah Cheetham AO, acclaimed soprano, composer and Artistic Director of Short Black Opera.
“Really I was overwhelmed to receive this prize,” Deborah says.
“I know that each year there are so many people nominated that are equally worthy and then it comes down to a handful of finalists, each and every one of them who works extremely hard to maintain a career in the arts in Australia, and maybe even expanding to the world. It's an incredible prize and it's such a Melbourne thing in the way that it supports artists.”
Awarded to artists 'for being an outstanding Victorian musician whose work demonstrates exceptional musicianship, skill and creativity', the Melbourne Prize For Music acknowledges not only Deborah as a performer and composer, but also her work in engaging Indigenous Australians with classical and orchestral music.
“There are lots of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander musicians who have trained classically, so the idea of engaging and the attraction to the Western canon of music and larger forms – large-scale music, orchestral music, opera and so forth – there's no problem at all engaging indigenous people with their interest, but that translating to an opportunity: now there is the real challenge,” she explains.
“In Australia, the opportunity to work at the highest levels – to belong to one of our great orchestras, for instance, or to sing with one of our major companies – this is an opportunity that is for just such a slender, few people, and to date you haven't seen indigenous people occupying first desks of our orchestras.
“You haven't seen indigenous singers in our main companies, well not before Short Black Opera established ten years ago, and we're working to change that. I think it changes everything for the better because it deepens our understanding of one another when we work and perform together, and I think it helps Australia to tap into, in a more meaningful way, this very long history that is here on this continent and nowhere else.”
The recipient of the Melbourne Prize For Music is also awarded a $60,000 cash prize, which Deborah says she intends using to further develop indigenous arts outside the realm of classical music and opera.
“What I like to be able to do is establish a studio in particular to foster indigenous creative process, whatever that happens to be, and that can also be a collaborative space for indigenous people to invite non-indigenous people to come in to that world,” she says.
“I'd like that to be the beginnings of a studio that I myself use in this compositional phase of my life; I tend to be writing a lot more music than I'm singing at the moment, which is okay with me. To have the freedom to do something like that is such an incredible gift.”
Other 2019 Melbourne Prize For Music winners were Mojo Juju, who was the recipient of the $18,500 Development Award. Andrea Keller was awarded the $12,500 Beleura Emerging Composers Award and Erkki Veltheim took home the $20,000 Distinguished Musicians Fellowship.