David Slater

Australian Composer & Conductor

I am an Australian conductor, composer and music educator. 

I worked for a time under the late Stuart Challender, former Chief Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and have conducted on 3 continents and throughout Australia. I have won both the Symphony Australia Prize and the National Orchestras of Australia Award.  

I founded and directed a number of award-winning music organisations, including contemporary music ensembles, orchestras, choirs, youth orchestras and music theatre companies. 

I am a sought-after workshop conductor and have accepted appointments to conduct masterclasses in Germany, Italy, Austria, Japan, China, Latvia and Russia

I am a Represented Australian Composer with the Australian Music Centre. I studied Composition in Australia and later under scholarship in Germany. My work, which ranges from the concert hall to TV, film and advertising, has received many awards. I receive frequent commissions, most recently a piano trio, piano concerto and 5-part acapella Magnificat. 

I am a respected music educator at tertiary and secondary level, having taught and lectured for 35 years. I am passionate about the place of music in society and in education, and have promoted the creation, study and performance of great music throughout my career. 

I am sought after as a performance adjudicator, have worked with many organisations, festivals and eisteddfods over 30 years and have examined final year music students in three Australian states. I was appointed to the International Jury of the 2016 World Choir Games in Sochi, Russia and 2017 European Choral Grand Prix in Latvia. There I presented workshops on Australian music and conducted choral masterclasses. I am a member of the faculty of the Summa Cum Laude International Youth Music Festival in Vienna where I conduct orchestral masterclasses at the Vienna University of Musik. I also serve in a similar capacity at a number of other international music festivals in many countries around the world.

I have won many major awards for composition, conducting and services to music in the community, including Australia Day awards, and have published a number of articles on music and music education. I am currently Australia's ambassador to the World Choir Council. 

I was born in Sydney in 1957, but had no opportunity to engage with music until my teen years. I immediately discovered a fascination with composition! Before beginning tertiary studies I had already completed a number of chamber, choral and orchestral works. I studied composition with Peter Sculthorpe, Ross Edwards, Peter Platt and David Lumsdaine, some early works receiving the Frank Hutchens Composition Scholarship, the Ignaz Friedman Memorial Prize, the Sarah Makin Prize and a grant from the Alfred White Trust. I won scholarships to study in Germany where I came into contact with ideas which might have seemed revolutionary in Australia at the time. Needless to say these complex, chaotic sounds became the foundation of my music.

On returning to Australia, I conducted concerts of New Music, and many works were commissioned and premiered. Theme and Variations for orchestra was selected for the inaugural ABC Young Composers' Summer School, and Elegy for chamber orchestra was commissioned by the Seymour Group. Many of these works involved electronic manipulation of sounds and all were exceedingly difficult.

The decade or so from 1983 saw little new composition. It was during this time that I became passionate about music education, working extensively with young people. I moved to Canberra with my young family, becoming Director of Music at an independent school, lecturing at the Australian National University, Canberra School of Music, and undertaking consultancies in music education for state and independent education authorities. I composed and orchestrated music for theatre and television, transcribed jazz recordings and conducted regular orchestral concerts and seasons of musical theatre. 

In the late 90's I returned to composition after moving to the NSW north coast. Years with no time to compose combined with a "sea change" created an opportunity to rethink the ideas of the 60's and 70's avante-garde which had shaped my earlier work. Bit by bit, I found myself seeking to work in a more expressive language which would communicate, rather than alienate. 

My music had always been intensely rhythmic while also being firmly melodic and harmonic. I came to see these dual traits as representations of my wicked sense of fun and the deep spirituality of my Christian faith. Works from this period include songs, orchestral, choral and chamber works, including several commissions.

The final result of all this searching was Scherzo and Chorale No.1, commissioned by the Nexas Saxophone Quartet. The second for string quartet followed soon after, and Noontide's Night, Night's Morning (concerto for Double Bass Section and Orchestra) has a Scherzo & Chorale with a jazz twist for its Finale. A Breath of Wind on the Wings of Madness, the 2nd movement of the Sonatina and the last movement of my Piano Concerto are also part of this virtuosic series, along with the newly completed Scherzo and Chorale IV for Brass quintet (2018). Most of my recent work uses various permutations of this form.

After moving for a few years from Coffs Harbour to the Gold Coast, I now live with my wife in Sydney, enjoying once again this city's rich cultural opportunities. I have retired from full-time teaching and am now travelling the world as guest conductor of choirs and orchestras, faculty member of international music festivals in many countries and composing for various groups at home and abroad. 

About my music ...  

'Rhythmic complexity, melodic simplicity and resonant harmonies are fused in my music. Earlier, inevitably, it was heavily influenced by European approaches and a degree of cynicism, resulting in dark, chaotic sounds. Now it's filled with light and space. I no longer want audiences or players to go home wondering what it was all about, remembering little of the experience but bewilderment.'