Eleven of the best… Australian musicians

We celebrate Australia Day with a line-up of Antipodean excellence

Eleven of the best… Australian musicians

1. Dame Nellie Melba (soprano)

Legendary not just for her sensational voice, but for displaying the sort of behaviour that has given the word ‘diva’ its infamous connotations, Dame Nellie Melba (real name: Helen Porter Mitchell) wore her Australian roots proudly – her stage name is a shortened version of the city of her birth. In a 2004 ABC TV series about her life (1861-1931), her voice was played by current top Australian soprano Yvonne Kenny.


2. Percy Grainger (composer)
Hugely eccentric, but also remarkably widely talented, the Melbourne-born Grainger (1882-1961) was a fine sportsman and even designed clothes, including a sports bra. Will forever be best known for his arrangement of ‘In an English country garden’, but was a composer of no little invention and colour. Try in particular his In a Nutshell suite.


3. Sir Charles Mackerras (conductor)
The conductor and former oboist with the Sydney Symphony was responsible for transforming English National Opera during one of the many crises in its history, as he shepherded the move from Sadler's Wells to its current home in the Coliseum. Almost single-handedly responsible for introducing the operas of Janácek to British audiences, Mackerras, who died in 2010, was also an esteemed period-instrument expert.


4. Dame Joan Sutherland (soprano)
One of opera’s all-time greats, Sutherland was a celebrated rival to Maria Callas in her heyday. ‘La Stupenda’ was also something of an all-rounder, whose career embraced composers ranging from Handel to Britten and Tippett. She died in 2010.


5. Peter Sculthorpe (composer)
The music of Peter Sculthorpe (1929-2014) has the very essence of Australia running through it, whether graphically portraying the country's landscape or reflecting on local political issues. His Requiem of 2004 was just one of a number of works to include a didgeridoo solo.


6. Elizabeth Wallfisch (violinist)
Wife of cellist Rafael Wallfisch, and mother of conductor and composer Benjamin, Elizabeth Wallfisch is one of the world’s leading Baroque violinists, either as a soloist or leading ensembles such as the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.


7. Piers Lane (pianist)
Lane, 58, is equally at home as a chamber musician or on the concerto soloist’s piano stool. He is also artistic director of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music and has recorded many discs for the Hyperion label, often championing lesser-known composers.


8. Simone Young (conductor)
Many British TV viewers will have become familiar with Simone Young, 54, from her appearances as one of the judges on the BBC's Maestro conducting competition in 2008. Others will be familiar with her as one of the select band of top-rank female conductors in the world – the first woman ever to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic, she has also held major posts in Sydney, Bergen and Hamburg.


9. Craig Ogden (guitarist)
Australia’s finest classical guitarist – if one discounts the nearly-antipodean John Williams on the grounds that his father is English – Ogden was once described by BBC Music Magazine as ‘the natural successor to Julian Bream’. A brilliant live performer, the Perth-born guitarist has been known to include variations on ‘Waltzing Matilda’ among his encores.

Read more about Craig Ogden in our recent article 'Six of the best...Classical guitarists'


10. Sydney Opera House
OK, OK, so it’s not a musician. However, Sydney’s opera house is – in visual terms at least - the world’s most iconic classical music building. Given that it is only 42 years old, that’s quite something.

11. Amy Dickson (saxophonist)
A classical saxophonist who shuns the attractions of jazz, Dickson has a rarity value coupled with a stage presence and musicality that has already won legions of fans. Her recordings for Sony Classical regularly meet with glowing reviews.




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