Deborah Cheetham AO wins the Sir Bernard Heinze Award

Deborah Cheetham AO. By Simon Schluter.
Deborah Cheetham AO. By Simon Schluter.

Acclaimed Yorta Yorta soprano, composer and Artistic Director of Short Black Opera, Deborah Cheetham AO, has been awarded the 2019 Sir Bernard Heinze Memorial Award.

Ms Cheetham made her international debut in 1997 and has performed in concert halls and theatres around the world. Most importantly Ms Cheetham has been a leader in the Australian Arts landscape for more than 25 years.

In 1998, she created her first major work, the critically acclaimed White Baptist Abba Fan. This was followed by Pecan Summer, Australia’s first Indigenous opera, which had its world premiere in 2010. The success of this work led to the creation of Short Black Opera Company, a national not-for-profit arts company devoted to the discovery and development of Indigenous musicians.

The Sir Bernard Heinze Memorial Award is made annually by the University of Melbourne and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and recognises outstanding contribution to Australian music.

Deborah Cheetham with the Sir Bernard Heinze Memorial Award, with Director of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Professor Gary McPherson.

In 2014, Ms Cheetham made the Queen’s Birthday Honours List and was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), for distinguished service to the performing arts as an opera singer, composer and artistic director, to the development of Indigenous artists, and to innovation in performance.

In 2015, she was inducted onto the Victorian Honour Roll of Women.

Ms Cheetham has previously served as Associate Dean (Indigenous) at the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music, University of Melbourne, and Head of the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development from 2011 to 2014.

Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Director Gary McPherson said he was thrilled to see Ms Cheetham receive the Award.

“As Artistic Director of Short Black Opera Company and in many other capacities, Deborah has assisted many Indigenous singers to find their voice through the powerful medium of opera,” said Professor McPherson.

“She has always, and will continue, I’m sure, to lead by example in creating art of the highest order. As a colleague and long-time admirer, I couldn’t be happier with the decision to honour Deborah in this way.”

Managing Director of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Sophie Galaise congratulated Ms Cheetham on behalf of the Board, musicians and staff of the MSO.

“Deborah has made an indelible mark on the Australian musical landscape and her contribution to the vibrancy and development of music is to be commended,” she said. “The MSO looks forward to continuing its relationship with Deborah. We salute her passion for Australian music, voices and stories.”

The Sir Bernard Heinze Memorial Award has been awarded annually since 1998. Past recipients include conductor Richard Gill, composer Carl Vine, singer Yvonne Kenny, composer Peter Sculthorpe, conductor John Hopkins, horn player Barry Tuckwell, Australian Chamber Orchestra leader Richard Tognetti, conductor and composer Brett Dean, conductor Simone Young, and music educator Sir Frank Callaway.