Wise Music is thrilled to announce that William Barton is the recipient of the Australia Council Don Banks Music Award for his exceptional and continued contributions to music.
The Don Banks Music Award was established in 1984 to publically honour a senior artist of high distinction who has made an outstanding and sustained contribution to music in Australia.
As a proud Kalkadungu man, Barton has referred to his musical upbringing in Mount Isa as a mixture of the sounds of the didgeridoo (yidaki) as well as Western classical music. He remembers his mother Delmae Barton playing classical music to him in his youth whilst also discovering his talent and affinity with the didjeridu with the help of his mother and his uncle Arthur Peterson; an elder of the Wannyi, Lardil and Kalkadunga people.
“What I remember so clearly from my uncle is him telling me that the didgeridoo is a language. It’s a speaking language and like any language, it’s something that you’ve got to learn over many months, and many years. It’s got to be a part of you, and what you do.” – William Barton
Image © Keith Saunders
At forty, Barton is easily the youngest recipient of the award thus far, gaining mastery of his instrument early in life and performing on international stages by the time he reached adolescence. Renowned for his virtuosity, he has performed with some of the world’s most prominent orchestras, such as the Berlin and London Philharmonic orchestras, as well as many orchestras and ensembles in Australia.
“Mum would often say, you sang to the bush and listen to the birds sing. You can travel to all these wonderful amphitheaters and concert halls of the world, but we have the most beautiful concert halls here in Australia and that's our landscape. And so to experience that as a young, young child, a young kid growing up into adulthood, certainly plays a role in your canvas of sound.” – William Barton
With performances at Olympic opening ceremonies, famous concert halls, private royal concerts and regional festivals, Barton has always captured the power and beauty of the Australian landscape within his music. His career has encompassed composition, improvisation and collaboration across a multitude of musical genres.
“I’m doing what I love. I want to take the oldest culture in the world and blend it with Europe’s rich musical legacy." – William Barton
Barton’s contributions to Australian music have been recognised with many other acknowledgements, including a residency at the Peggy Glanville-Hicks House in Sydney in 2020 and the Artist in Residence at the Melbourne Recital Centre in 2019. He also won a Sydney Theatre Award for Best Original Score for a Main Stage Production in 2018 for Sydney Theatre Company’s The Long Forgotten Dream.
Barton’s own compositions have focused on the marriage between powerful didjeridu music and diverse Western classical ensembles. He worked closely with other notable composers such as Liza Lim and Peter Sculthorpe, who was inspired by Barton’s music. In 2020, Barton and violinist Véronique Serret collaborated on the Heartland series, drawing upon the expansive sounds of the native Australian landscape. Having an unwavering creative bond to this day, Barton and his mother Delmae continue to collaborate on a multitude of works.
Image © Keith Saunders
He is due to premiere a new work at the Charleville Cosmos Centre as part of the Queensland Music Festival’s Music Trails series in June 2021, as well as another world premiere performance commissioned by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra for the concert Epic Sounds in the same month.
“To have such an award, being gifted to an artist and to be a part of that legacy of all the other amazing people who have received the Don Banks Music Awards, is a great thing.” – William Barton