Stephen Leek Biography
Composer, Conductor, Educator, Publisher, Artistic Director

Stephen Leek is a major and important figure in the development of choral music, music in the community and educational music in Australia. His own distinctive music is immediately recognizable, capturing the drama, rhythms, colours and essence 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, 1991until 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 then Vice President of the IFCM from 2011 until 2017 where he was central to the development of important choral projects around the world. A pioneer in developing composer residencies in Australia, Leek’s involvement with numerous choral and music groups at every level of accomplishment has had vital influence on the history of Australian choral 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 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 been 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. During this time along with the Australian Voices he mentored and commissioned hundreds of new works from emerging choral composers such as Matthew Orlovich, Paul Stanhope, Dan Walker, Katie Abbott to name but a few. He was also committed to the performance and recording of the forgotten music of more established Australian composers.

 “Stephen Leek is one of the finest choral trainers in the world. His international reputation as a composer, conductor and teacher places him truly in the elite level of Australian musicians in the international scene.” 

Graham Abbott – Conductor, Music Educator and Broadcaster

Among Stephen Leek’s array of personal accolades is the award in 2003 of the highly 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 again 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 which have included 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” of choral music. 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. 

 In 2021 Leek still free-lances around Australia and around the world as conductor and composer, but now resides in Launcerston, Tasmania. He is part-time Artistic Director / General Manager of the Young Music Society – an awarded, self-funded, non-profit, community based organisation that celebrated 50 years in 2019. In 2021 in conjunction with his colleague Joel Copeland, Leek is embarking on a new choral venture “Voices of Canberra” for young talented singers between the ages of 16 and 21, that aimed to address the disconnect of young adult singers with adult choirs through knowledge and experience of the great classic choral repertoire – Renaissance to Contemporary – from around the world.

“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 Biog for Programs

Freelance Australian Composer/Conductor Stephen Leek is a major and important figure in the development of choral music, music in the community and educational music in Australia. He has had 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 continues to be in demand to work as guest conductor around the globe.

As a composer he writes in his own distinctive contemporary style. His works have broad appeal and are performed regularly by a wide selection of choirs throughout the world and 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 commitment to the innovative development of Australian choral music over the past 4 decades and through his composition of over 700 innovative choral works which explore a uniquely “Australian” colour and texture.

A Churchill Fellow, Leek has received numerous national and international awards including the highly prestigious “Robert Edler International Choral Prize” for his contribution to the development of global choral music presented to him in Darmstaat, Germany. He has held many national and international positions including Vice President of the International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM) from 2011 – 2017, and 2012/13, 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 Canberra. He was part-time Artistic Director / General Manager of the Young Music Society – an awarded, self-funded, non-profit, community-based organisation that celebrated 50 years in 2019, from 2016 until 2022, and worked sessionally within the Canberra Girls Grammar Music Academy. In 2022 Leek moved to Launceston, Tasmania.


B.A.(Music) Canberra School of Music (1979 – 1983) Double degree in Composition and Cello Performance
Forty plus (40+) years of experience as a full-time practicing professional composer, conductor, educator and publisher
Note: Although primarily a freelance artist for his entire working life, Stephen Leek has held various part and permanent sessional positions throughout his career and long associations with many leading organizations and institutions, and has managed complex and creative organizations of his own making.

Recent Positions (Professional and Voluntary)
Artistic Director/Manager, Young Music Society (2016 – 2022)
Free-lance Composer, Conductor, Educator and Publisher
Vice President – International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM) (2010 – 2018)
Lecturer in Choral Direction – Melba Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne (2012 – present)
Artistic Executive Director –  IFCM Asia Pacific World Choral Expo 2015
Conductor – Asia Pacific Youth Choir 2015
Conductor – Sydney Childrens Choir Young Mens Choir 2013 – 2015
Conductor – Gondwana Singers 2013 – 2015
Artistic Director – Shanghai Youth Choir 2012 – 2013
Artistic Director – Shanghai Boys Choir 2012 – 2013
Member Asia Pacific Choral Summit
Executive Editor – International Choral Bulletin
Member of the World Choral Summit
Australia’s representative on the Asia Pacific Choral Council

Past Professional Positions
Inaugural Director – Gondwana International Choral Composers School
International Ambassador – Gondwana Choirs
Conductor – The Key Changers Boys Choir
Lecturer in Composition, Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University (1991 – 2009)
Lecturer in Improvisation and Movement, Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University (1995 – 2009)
Co-Founder and Artistic Director / Conductor, The Australian Voices (1993 – 2009)
Joint Founder and Director, ArtsNOW Australia (1989 – 2007)
Founder and Director, vOiCeArT experimental vocal ensemble (1989 – 1999)
Composer / Musician Tasmanian Dance Company (full-time 1983 – 1986)
Vice President and Board Member, International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM) (2009 to 2017)
Artistic Executive, World Choral EXPO, Macau
Working in collaboration with numerous visual, media, electronic and literary artists nearly 40 years

Board memberships
Vice President and Board Member, International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM) (2009 to 2017)
Artistic Executive – IFCM World Choral EXPO, Macau, 2015
Former Board Member, National Music Council of Australia
Former Board Member, Chair of Education Committee, The Australian Music Centre
Former Board Member, National Council, Australian National Choral Association
Former Member, Brisbane City Council Arts Advisory Board
Artistic Board Member, World EXPO Milan Music Program 2015
Chair of IFCM Advisory Board of the IFCM International Choral Bulletin (ICB)
Director, ArtNOW, Australia

Recent Major Awards include:
APRA/AMCOS Australian Art Music Awards Choral/Vocal Work of the Year 2013
APRA/AMCOS Australian Art Music Award Best Music in the Community of the Year 2014
APRA/AMCOS Australian Art Music Award Regional Music Award 2015
Robert Edler International Choral Prize (2004) (one of the most prestigious international choral awards)
Sounds Australian Art Music Award for Best Choral Work (1991)
Sounds Australian Art Music Award for the Most Distinguished Contribution to Australian Music by an Individual (1991)
Australian Centenary of Federation Medal (2001)
First Prize Australian National Cello Competition (1983)
First Prize Winner The Inaugural Australian Opera Prize
“die dunkle erde” selected to represent Australia at the Paris Rostrum
Sunnie Award for Best Recording (QLD)
and many others….

Fellowships, major grants etc. include:
Australia Council Fellowship (1993)
AusDance – NewMusicNewDance Project (1989)
Australian Dance Music Project (1990)
Churchill Fellowship (1997)
Australian / New Zealand Young Composers and Choreographers Fellowship (1983)
ABC Young Composers Orchestral Program (1985)
Australia Council for the Arts Project grants (numerous)
….plus numerous funding grants for residencies, commissions, collaborations and other projects from Local, State and National Arts Funding bodies in Australia (too extensive to list here)

Main Experience
Co-Founder/Manager/Administrator then Artistic Director/Conductor – The Australian Voices (17 years)
Working extensively in the composition of works for children, young people, amateur musicians, education, theatre, dance, orchestras, chamber ensembles and childrens musictheatre
Eighteen (18) years sessional Lecturer in Composition and Improvisation at the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University
Thirty (35+) years experience as a freelance professional Composer and Conductor, Educator and Publisher
Producer of several CD recordings for commercial release
Producer and author of several kits on composition and dance music, projects and resources for music educational purposes
Self published composer, sales and promotions via the internet and other social media
Consultant to various organisations including Brisbane City Council, NSW Education Department, Musica Viva, Tasmanian Arts Fund, Australian Music Centre, Australian Performing Rights Association etc. etc.

Composer Residencies: (far too numerous to mention all)
Gondwana Choirs (numerous) Australia
St Peters Chorale, St Peters Lutheran College, Brisbane, Australia (many)
Eltham East Primary School Choir (many) Australia
National Music Camps of Australia- AYO  (3 years) Australia
San Francisco Choral Artists, USA (Composer Not-in-Residence Program)
Songbridge Festival, Rotterdam, The Netherlands (Inaugural Songbridge Composer)
Marktoberdorf Musik Academy, Germany
Kamer…choir, Latvia
Tasdance, Australia (3 years)
Arena Theatre Company, Melbourne, Australia
Sydney Youth Orchestra Society, Australia
…and many, many more organisations, schools, orchestras, theatre companies, dance companies, universities, choirs, professional and community groups across Australia and around the world.

Conductor Residencies, Adjudications and guest appearances include: (far too numerous to mention all)
ITB International Choral Festival, Indonesia 2015
China International Choral Festival, China, 2014
Shanghai Youth Choir, China 2012-13
Taiwan Festival Youth Chorus, Taiwan (5 times, 2005 – 2013)
World Choral Summit, Beijing 2011
St Angelo Choral Festival, Bandung, Indonesia
Formosa Singers, Taiwan 2005
American Choral Directors Association, USA
China Choral Festival, Beijing 2011 and 2014
Taiwan International Festival of Music, Taiwan
Cembra Music Festival, Italy 2013
Golden Gate International Choral Festival, San Francisco, 2011
Songbridge Festival, The Netherlands 1999
World Symposium on Choral Music, (several) Sydney 1996, Puerto Madryn, Argentina, 2011, Seoul 2014
Singapore Music Festival, Singapore (several times)
Guangzhou Childrens Palace, China 2011
Crystal Choirs, San Francisco, USA 2009
Asia Pacific Choral Summit, Macau 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015
COMA, Community Music Association, United Kingdom 1997
INTERCULTUR World Choir Games, Xiamen (China) 2004 and Graz (Austria) 2007
Llangollan International Festival, Wales 2004
Jihlava International Music Festival, Czech Republic1997
…. And with many, many choirs world-wide and at many festivals and events across the globe

High Profile Presentations include: (far too numerous to mention all)
World Symposiums on Choral Music (several including Rotterdam 1999, Seoul 2014, Sydney 1996, Puerto Madryn 2011)
World Choral Summit, Beijing, China
International Society for Music Education Conferences (several)
Australian Society for Music Education Conferences (several)
American Choral Directors Association Conventions, USA
Australian Orff Society National Conference
Hong Kong International Festival of Choral Music, Hong Kong
Australian Music Centre
Martoberdorf Musik Academy
Golden Gate Festival of Music, San Francisco, USA
American Choral Directors Association Conventions, USA
INTERCULTUR World Choir Games, Graz, Austria and Xiamin, China
Taipei International Festival of Music, Taiwan
COMA National Conference – London
…. and at numerous festivals and events around Australia and the world.

Adjudicator positions include:
APRA Art Music Awards
IFCM International Choral Composition Competition
Japan Choral Federation International Composition Competition
World Choir Games, Graz, Austria
Sydney Eisteddfod, Australia
Marktoberdorf International Choral competition, Germany
Hong Kong International Choral Competition, Hong Kong
China National Choral Competition, Beijing, China

Commissions include: (too numerous to mention all)
Sydney Children’s Choir (many) Australia
Salt Lake City Choral Artists, USA
Encounters Festival, Australia
The Australian Voices (many) Australia
The St Peters Chorale (many) Australia
Gondwana Voices (many)
Kamer…choir, Latvia
The Formosa Singers, Taiwan
St Jacobs Chamber Choir, Sweden
Vilnius Music Festival, Lithuania
Guangzhou Children’s Palace Choir, China
Portsmouth Grammar School, UK
The Australia Ensemble
Hong Kong Treble Choir, Hong Kong
St Peters College, Australia
Singapore Chamber Choir, Singapore
Marktoberdorf International Festival of Music, Germany
San Francisco Choral Artists, USA
Woden Valley Youth Choir, Australia
Glen Ellen Children’s Choir, USA
Tapiola Children’s Choir, Finland
Eltham East Primary School Choir, Australia (many)
Australian Boys Choir, Australia
Taipei Male Choir, Taiwan
Gondwana Voices (many), Australia
The Song Company, Australia
Musica Viva Australia, Australia
Bucks Central High School, USA
World Choral Summit, China
The Hunter Singers, Australia (several)
Birralee Voices, Australia
Southern Cross Soloists, Australia (several)
Adelaide Philharmonic, Australia
Australian Youth Choir, Australia
Shanghai Youth Choir, China
Goulburn Regional Conservatorium, Australia
Opera Queensland, Australia
Katie Noonan and AVE
Kodaly Society National Conference
Symphony Australia, Australia …and many, many more including works for dance, theatre and multi-media performances

Past Students include:
Elliott Gyger
Antony Walker
Jared Choolun
Melody Eotvos
Julian Day
Kathryn Reeves
Katie Noonan
Toby Wren
and many, many others.

Other musicians who have worked with Leek through The Australian Voices and other projects:
Amelia Alder
Simon Hewett
Dr. Liam Viney
Dr. Matthew Orlovich
Dr. Paul Stanhope
Daniel Rojas
Sam Wagan-Watson
Gordon Hamilton
Damian Barbeler
Katherine Kemp
Seamus Kirkpatrick
William Barton
and the list goes on…….

Discover more about the work and influence of Stephen Leek