Freedman Music Fellowships

The 2021 Fellowships are underway

The Freedman Classical and Jazz Fellowships are underway for 2021. There is a very strong likelihood that each Fellowship will be able to conclude, as of yore, with a concert at the Sydney Opera House for a live audience. HUZZAH!

The candidates for each Fellowship – the Classical and the Jazz – are chosen by nine nominators, distinguished musicians or composers or managers from right across Australia. For each Fellowship there are up to 16 nominees. Not many, out of a population of more that 25 million, so the process is highly selective. The nominees are not yet known but their names will arrive in April.

They have to send in applications that include video and sound recordings of their performances, and a description of an imaginative project on which they will spend their prize money if they win.

The prizes each are $21,000.

Three judges for each Fellowship will choose three finalists. Then the finalists perform at concerts where the winners are chosen.

The jazz concert will take place on Monday August 30 in The Studio and the classical concert on Friday October 29 in the Utzon Room.

Daily info will be given on the Freedman Fellowship Facebook page as each Fellowship approaches the announcement of the finalists, with updates as we get closer to the concerts.

Freedman Jazz Fellowship 2020

Brisbane bassist and composer Helen Svoboda has been announced as the winner of this year’s Freedman Jazz Fellowship, valued at $21,000.

The nominees for the Fellowship submit recordings of their playing and often of their compositions, and a description of a project they will undertake using the prize money, should they be the winner. The judges initially choose three (this year, four) finalists and they are provided with mentors to assist in further development of their project designs. Usually, there is a concert of the finalists at the Studio of the Sydney Opera House. This year, the concert had to be abandoned and the winner was chosen on the basis of all the submitted materials.

Helen’s project stems from her passionate interest in sustainable food production, which she sees as vital in ensuring the nourishment of future generations across the globe. She intends to translate a story of mass food production (i.e. fruit and vegetables) into a thirty minute musical suite with accompanying video, performed by a nine piece band. The final product will be released as a visual album with six accompanying short films in the form of a limited edition USB + digital release.

‘The Odd Bunch’ ensemble will feature three interchangeable trios which cycle through characteristics related to mass produce such as GMOs, Pesticides and Organics. The trios will perform sometimes in conflict with each other, or by morphing into one another and occasionally joining in musical unity. They craft a twisted story about the uncertainty of an unstable environment and nutritional denial. Spoken word and poetry will form a vital component of the story-telling process, touching on additional topics such as future farming innovations such as vertical farming.

The distinguished judges for 2020 were Mike Nock, Chris Cody and Laurence Pike, who are all accomplished musicians, composers and educators. They commented:

“Each finalist was chosen because they presented a unique artistic vision. Helen’s proposed collaboration ‘The Odd Bunch’ with film-maker Angus Kirby was truly inspired. She communicated her vision through a well-considered and refined musical project which also spoke to a real-world issue that humanity is facing. Her energy and passion were palpable, and the excellence clearly at the fore. Helen will be a force in Australian music.”

Helen is a double bassist, vocalist, composer, improviser and nature enthusiast. “With a deep awareness of extra musical concepts that shape inventive improvisation, and great art” (Steve Newcomb, AUS), Helen draws influence from vegetables, flowers and the genres of minimalist neo-classical music, folk and experimental jazz.

Born of Finnish/Australian heritage, Helen recently graduated from a Masters of Music course in the Netherlands, specializing in soloistic double bass composition.

She has released nine albums as leader/co-leader with three on the way.

As a composer her work has been commissioned for projects including ‘Trading Fours’ (QLD Conservatorium) and ‘Blanche Dael’ (NL). Most recently she was invited as special guest on Sebastian Gramss’ ‘Hard Boiled Wonderland’ (2020 Cologne) in which she composed and performed a spoken word piece about the Australian bushfire crisis.


Director of The Music Trust, Dr Dick Letts said of the 2020 Jazz Fellowship:

“This year, there were 18 specially nominated musicians vying for the Freedman Jazz Fellowship. Nine great musicians from across Australia were given the terse instruction: ‘Nominate the winner.’ Of the four finalists, three play the double bass! – and one, the trumpet. Originality is valued. The rules are kept to a minimum. And this is the very unusual result. A brilliantly diverse set of musicians from the brilliantly diverse world of Australian jazz.”

About the Freedman Jazz Fellowship

The Freedman Jazz Fellowship has become probably the most prestigious award in Australia for a jazz musician. Usually the winner is decided at a concert of the finalists at The Studio at Sydney Opera House. This year, it of course was not possible to hold a concert and so the decision was made through consideration of recordings made by the candidates, written proposals for projects on which a candidate would spend the $21,000 should they win, and online interviews of each finalist. Also, for the first time the finalists were offered the services of a mentor to further refine and develop their project proposals.

The Jazz Fellowship is funded by the Freedman Foundation, a philanthropic foundation chaired by Laurence Freedman, which assists young Australians in music and visual arts, as well as providing support to medical and scientific programs.  Laurence and Kathy Freedman were made Members of the Order of Australia for service to the community, to medical research, the arts, and to business and investment in Australia. The Fellowship was devised by Dick Letts and Laurence and first awarded in 2001.

The Fellowships are managed by The Music Trust and administered by the Sydney Improvised Music Association.

Past winners of the Freedman Jazz Fellowships read like a ‘Who’s Who’ of Australian jazz. They include vocalist Kristin Berardi, guitarists Ben Hauptmann and James Muller, saxophonists Julien Wilson, Andrew Robson and Matt Keegan, pianists Andrea Keller, Matt McMahon, Marc Hannaford, Aaron Choulai, Tal Cohen and Novak Manojlovic, trumpeters Nick Garbett and Phil Slater, electric bass player Christopher Hale,  and drummer James McLean.