Stephen Leek’s distinctive music is immediately recognizable, capturing the enigmas, drama, rhythms, colours and ethos of Australia. He has been accredited with having made a significant impact on and a major contribution to the development of Australian choral composition and performance and how that has been promoted and discussed throughout the world over the past 40 years.
“If one were to dream about an ideal way for Australian choral music to truly make its mark, one might:
Ø Firstly, focus on developing a body of choral repertoire that tells the world about the perspective and concerns of our place and our time, and encourage the development of compositional skills that articulate this perspective with clarity and nuance;
Ø Secondly, develop the musical skills and the experience in young singers to articulate and realise this repertoire, giving it a life, with enthusiasm, joy, vigour, clarity, and above all, with the utmost musicality and rigour;
Ø Thirdly, provide the singers with an experience that will significantly impact on their lives, and provide audiences with a rich, meaningful, and above all, entertaining experience;
Ø Fourthly, perform often, at home and away, in a variety of contexts, directly communicating with audiences;
Ø And lastly, continue to motivate, enthuse, excite, stimulate, and challenge, always aiming high, never faltering, and truly setting a benchmark for others to emulate.
But wait a minute! This already exists, and has existed for 15 years! In Stephen Leek and The Australian Voices! How blessed are we in this country to claim them as our own?”John Davis – Chief Executive Officer, The Australian Music Centre Limited
Born in Sydney in 1959, Stephen Leek is an extensively commissioned freelance composer, freelance conductor, educator and publisher. Teaching sessional Composition and Improvisation at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University until 2009 Leek, resigned from this position in order to develop further his already hectic free-lance schedule of commissions, workshops and guest appearances and to take up a non-remunerative position on the Board of the International Federation of Choral Music – a project of UNESCO. He was Vice President of the IFCM until 2017. A pioneer in developing composer residencies, Leek’s involvement with numerous choral and music groups at every level of accomplishment has had vital influence on recent Australian music.
“Luminary is not an exaggeration when applied to Stephen Leek. His music is published, performed and recorded in many countries of the world. His name is well-known among many thousands of people, not all of them seasoned musicians. He has influenced the lives of many hundreds of young Australians…. Only a relatively small percentage of Australia’s many composers might boast such a profile, yet books on Australian music – even the more recent ones – have ignored Leek’s work, or at best, passed it of in one or two sentences.”
Dr Helen Lancaster – Music Council of Australia
In Australia he has been Composer in Residence to numerous leading organisations such as the Sydney Children’s Choir / Gondwana Choirs, The St Peters Chorale, the National Music Camps Association of Australia (AYO), and the Eltham East Primary School Choir, all ensembles that have defined new directions and pathways for Australian music. Leek has also be widely commissioned here and abroad with some of the most recent commissions including The Australian Voices (AUS), The Glen Ellen Children’s Choir (USA), The Adelaide Chorale (AUS), Eltham East Primary School Choir (AUS), SongBridge 2000 (Netherlands), Gondwana Choirs (AUS), the San Francisco Girls Chorus (USA), Taipei Male Choir (Taiwan), Sydney Male Choir (AUS) Kamer Choir – World Sun Songs Project (Latvia) Singapore Chamber Choir (Singapore) to name but a few. Having worked extensively at all levels of Australian and international music-making, Leek has devoted much of his working life to generating workshops and repertoire that stimulates, excites and challenges the very youngest performers to seasoned professionals, putting performance practises and skills in place to enable all ages and skills levels to interpret, understand and appreciate the unique qualities of his music and other Australian composers.
“There exists an unspoken prejudice among certain professional musicians – composers, performers, critics, administrators, funding bodies – against music written for amateurs. Most believe that sort of activity to be beneath their dignity; some performers, (like actors) regard it as a risk to been seen and heard in the company of amateurs (and children and animals); critics and journalists, similarly, prefer not to be associated without the big names. For this reason Stephen Leek is not as widely known as he should be. Of course, Leek may have the last laugh, because there is a new generation of young musicians in Australia that would probably mention him first when asked to name a living composer.Leek doesn’t compose exclusively for amateurs, but it seems to be his preferred domain. Certainly he is expert at it, and the result of such expertise is to transcend the amateur tag altogether. Like Orff, Britten and Maxwell Davies – to name only three – Leek writes music for his young performers that is in the first place challenging, but soon turns out to be exceptionally grateful to sing; the difficulties can be overcome. And, like the other three composers’ music for non-professionals, Leeks’ sound more technically difficult than it really is. In other words, choirs do this music because it makes them sound good, and that’s not a bad reason.” Andrew Ford – Composer, Broadcaster, Commentator
From 1989 – 1996, with his improvisational vocal group vOiCeArT, Stephen Leek confronted the Australian music world head-on by throwing out wild challenges to the mainstream about the notion and practices of choral singing. In 1993 he was joint founder, and from 1997 – 2009 Artistic Director/Conductor, of The Australian Voices, an elite ensemble of young adult singers who, through their motivated commitment to the work of Australian composers, have significantly challenged and changed the landscape of choral music in Australia and taken Australian music to the most prestigious festivals and events around the globe.
“The Australian Voices has led the way in shifting Australian choral music – and our perceptions of it – from the fringes to the mainstream. The fact that choral organisations all over Australia now regard it as core activity to promote, commission and perform Australian repertoire is in no small part due to the commitment and expertise of this wonderful organisation.”Graham Abbott – Conductor, Music Educator and Broadcaster
Among Stephen Leek’s array of personal accolades is the award in 2003 of the prestigious Robert Edler International Prize for Choral Music that he received in Darmstadt, Germany. Cited by an international jury for his ‘decisive influence’ on both the Australian music scene and the international choral community as a composer and conductor, Leek has been admitted into the pantheon of leading choral composers and conductors worldwide alongside Conductors Freider Bernius, Karmina Selic, Maria Guinaund and institutions such as the World Youth Choir. He has won numerous other national and international awards for his music including several Sounds Australian Awards, and in 2004, his work “die dunkle Erde” was selected by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to represent Australia at the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in Paris. In 2013 he was awarded the APRA-AMC National Vocal / Choral Work of the Year.
“The enormous range of Stephen Leek’s choral activities and the extraordinary quality of his composition work have made him one of the most interesting and promising of the rising generation of composers in the world today.” Dir. Dolf Rabus, International Federation of Choral Music, Director – Marktoberdorf International Chamber Choir Competition, Germany
In recent years Leek’s activities have expanded more on the international scene where he has been Composer in Residence at the Marktoberdorf Musik Akademy, Germany; Guest Conductor with the acclaimed Formosa Singers, Taiwan, The Crystal Choir, USA, Composer NOT in Residence with Choral Artists of San Francisco, and, Guest Conductor with the Singapore Ministry of Education, The Taiwan National Youth Choir, The Crystal Choir in the USA, guest composer at the Sun Music Festival in Riga, Latvia, a juror at the World Choir Games in Austria, and presenter at numerous music, education and choral Conferences around the world. He was also Artistic Director / Conductor of the Shanghai Youth Choir for several years. His list of national and international commissions now reads like a list of “Who’s Who”. With his work regularly being performed by choirs and primarily amateur organisations around the world, Leek is arguably one of the most performed, yet largely ignored by the establishment in his own country.
“Stephen Leek’s Uluru (from Great Southern Spirits) is one of the most compelling, electrifying new choral compositions I have heard.” Mark Gresham, Chorus! USA
BRIEF BIOGRAPHY FOR PROGRAM NOTES
Freelance Australian Composer/Conductor Stephen Leek has long associations with some of the finest and most innovative choirs around the world including Gondwana Voices (Australia), the Tapiola Children’s Choir (Finland), Kamer…Choir (Latvia), The Formosa Singers (Taiwan), and his own choirs, vOiCeArT and The Australian Voices, that he co-founded and conducted for 16 years until 2009. As a conductor, Leek is in demand to work as guest conductor around the globe. As a composer he writes in his own distinctive contemporary style. His works, which have broad appeal and are performed by a wide selection of choirs throughout the world. He has been commissioned by some of the leading choral groups world-wide. Having written 13 operas, numerous orchestral and chamber works, music for education and dance, yet, Leek is often credited as the “founder of Australian choral music” through his composition of over 700 innovative choral works which explore a uniquely “Australian” colour and texture. A Churchill Fellow, Leek has received many national and international awards including the prestigious “Robert Edler International Choral Prize” for his contribution to the development of global choral music. He was Vice President of the International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM) from 2011 – 2017, and in 2012/13, was the Artistic Director of the Shanghai Youth Choir and in 2015, Conductor of the Asia Pacific Youth Choir.
Leek still free-lances around Australia and around the world as conductor and composer, but now resides in Gundaroo (outside of Canberra) and is part-time Artistic Director / General Manager of the Young Music Society – an awarded, self-funded, non-profit, community based based organisation that celebrates 50 years in 2019.