2020 SOUNZ Contemporary Award

Finalists from left to right: Celeste Oram, Alex Taylor, Simon Ingram, Michael Norris

SOUNZ Centre for New Zealand Music, with APRA AMCOS NZ, is thrilled to announce the finalists for the 2020 SOUNZ Contemporary Award | Te Tohu Auaha, celebrating excellence in contemporary composition:

Alex Taylor and Simon Ingram for Assemblage
Celeste Oram for a loose affiliation of alleluias
Michael Norris for Mātauranga (Rerenga)

The finalists were selected by a judging panel of independent industry representatives, including an international composer representative Frank J. Oteri (USA):

“Despite all the proceedings taking place over Zoom, it being 2020 and in the middle of a global pandemic, there was such collegiality and camaraderie between all of us that it occasionally felt that were actually together in the same room. Let us hope that at some point when this all passes that we can all gather together in the same room to hear further live performances of each of these extraordinary works.

The panel, which included New Zealanders Ross Harris, Gretchen La Roche, Marc Taddei and Sarah Watkins commented on the very high quality of the submissions this year, demonstrated in the 48 works entered by 39 composers.

Ross Harris says,I think I speak for all the judges of the 2020 SOUNZ Contemporary Award in saying that the standard was amazingly high and the originality and diversity quite extraordinary. Of the top contenders several could have taken out the Award.

 Marc Taddei says, “The state of NZ contemporary art music is in a wonderful place at the moment. The diversity and excellence of the entries is astonishing, and is amply exemplified by the three finalists that have been chosen.”


Alex Taylor (winner of the 2012 SOUNZ Contemporary Award for his work [inner] for viola and orchestra) and Simon Ingram have been nominated as co-finalists for their collaboration Assemblage for orchestra with painting machine.

Alex Taylor says, “Assemblage is a hybrid work: part orchestral concert piece, part real-time mechanical painting-sculpture; but most of the interest I think is in the intersection between the orchestra and the machine, the relationship between sound and movement and the resultant painted image. Another important intersection is between the grandiose and the banal: the music has a lumbering, overblown (Wagnerian?) quality which, combined with a pared-back, iconic graphic image begins to point towards something sinister or bleak, even propagandistic.

“This was a really satisfying collaboration – I’m proud of its experimentalism and quirkiness – and so it’s wonderful to be recognised alongside Simon as a finalist; I also want to acknowledge the work of everyone at Orchestra Wellington in bringing the piece to life: Marc, Garry, Kirsten, Erica, their team, and of course all the fantastic instrumentalists! Also Chris Watson at SOUNZ and Jeremy Brick for their excellent visual documentation, and Radio New Zealand for the high quality audio. Nearly 2000 folks got to watch the premiere live in the Michael Fowler Centre, which was a real thrill for me.”


Celeste Oram was a finalist for the 2014 SOUNZ Contemporary Award with her work macropsia for orchestra. She has now been nominated as a finalist for her work a loose affiliation of alleluias, a concerto for improvising violinist and three voices.

Celeste Oram says, “My favourite description of the piece so far is one given by an audience member after the premiere. She said it reminded her of 16th century Dutch oil paintings of cathedral interiors: where powerful cardinals pontificate in tight-knit huddles, dogs scratch at fleas, merchants barter and deal, old women seek alms and solace, statues gaze beatifically, echoes volley, ghosts loiter—all this, chaotically strewn beneath the cathedral’s serenely ordered architecture, aching from the weight of plundered wealth. 

“The vital work of SOUNZ and APRA give New Zealand artists ample reasons to take pride in supporting each other’s work, and every year the SOUNZ Contemporary Award is an exciting celebration of how creative partnerships—both within & beyond Aotearoa—grow and flourish to yield beautiful things. Whatever value this piece is judged to have, I hope it points to the value of strong and generous creative communities, and adventurous organisations like the La Jolla Symphony Orchestra. In addition to their support, this piece literally could not have happened without the artistry and collegiality of Steven Schick (conductor & commissioner), Matt Kline (assistant conductor), Lauren Jones & Barbara Byers (vocal soloists), Keir GoGwilt (violin soloist), and the production staff of UC San Diego.” 


Wellington composer Michael Norris has been nominated for the SOUNZ Contemporary Award seven times, winning it in 2014 with his work Inner Phases for string quartet and Chinese instrument ensemble, in 2018 with his work Sygyt for throatsinger, ensemble and live electronics, and last year with his work Violin Concerto – Sama. He is now nominated as a finalist for his work Mātauranga (Rerenga) for orchestra, taonga puoro and live electronics.

Michael Norris says, I’m really pleased to be nominated for the SOUNZ Contemporary Award again this year. My piece, Mātauranga (Rerenga) was a very special piece to compose. Although I had previously attended a number of noho marae run by taonga puoro maestri such as Richard Nunns and Horomona Horo, this was my first composition to feature taonga puoro. I want to particularly thank my soloist, the wonderful Al Fraser, who was everything I could ask for in a collaborator, as well as conductor Carlos Kalmar, who, with the sensitive and nuanced playing of the NZSO, helped bring the score to life.

 “I envisaged this piece as a tightly integrated soundworld between the taonga puoro and the orchestra, which given their very different timbres and performance techniques was quite challenging. I decided to use custom-built live electronics to transform the sounds of the taonga puoro in real-time into wavelike textures which the orchestra would then imitate and develop. In this way, the orchestra becomes an immense resonator and amplifier of the intimate, expressive sonorities of the taonga puoro.”

The winner of the SOUNZ Contemporary Award | Te Tohu Auaha will be announced at the 2020 APRA Silver Scroll Awards to be held at the Town Hall in Auckland on Wednesday 14 October.

The SOUNZ Contemporary Award | Te Tohu Auaha, celebrating its 22nd anniversary this year, recognises New Zealand compositions demonstrating outstanding levels of creativity and inspiration and has been presented in collaboration with APRA AMCOS NZ since 1998. Read more about the Award and its past winners and finalists, and explore their works here.