The Award, presented annually by the University of Melbourne and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, recognises outstanding contribution to Australian music.
Ormond Professor of Music, Gary McPherson, of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music said he was thrilled to see Dr Letts receive this year’s Award. “Richard Letts has had a profound influence in reshaping the pattern of government support for music in Australia,” he said.
“From his early years as a classical pianist and jazz band leader to, in more recent times, his work as Founder and Director of The Music Trust, he has made a singularly impressive contribution to our understanding and appreciation of the importance and value of music within the Australian community,” said Professor McPherson.
Born in Sydney in 1935, Dr Letts completed his PhD in 1971 at The University of California (Berkeley). In 1972 he became the director of the East Bay Center for Performing Arts, a community performing arts school on San Francisco’s East Bay which he built into a ground-breaking institution.
In 1980 he became Director of the MacPhail Music Center, the downtown music school of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and the largest such school in the USA; and in 1981 he was elected Vice-President of the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts.
In 1982, he returned to Australia to serve as a Director on the Music Board for the Australia Council for the Arts, where he initiated major developments in policy that profoundly influenced and reshaped the pattern of government support for music across Australia.
He became Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Music Centre in 1987, and introduced programs in digitisation, record production, publishing, retailing, the awards program and others. In 1994, he founded the Music Council of Australia, and served as Chair and then Executive Director for 19 years.
In the 1996 Australia Day Honours List, Dr Letts was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM), for service to music as an administrator and consultant. In 2008 he received the APRA/AMC Award for Lifetime Contribution to Australian Music. Dr. Letts also holds an honorary Lifetime Membership to the Music Council of Australia and is a Member of Honour to the International Music Council.
In 2005, he was elected President of the International Music Council, UNESCO’s advisory body on matters of music, and was responsible for major innovations in the IMC’s program including the establishment of an international Music Sector Development Program, the e-bulletin Music World News and the initiation of the IMC Music Rights Awards.
In 2001, Richard and Laurence Freedman devised and launched the Freedman Music Fellowships in classical music and jazz, with funding from the Freedman Foundation. They encourage and support excellence and daring in Australia’s finest young musicians and are among the most prestigious in the country.
In 2013, as Founder and Director, he established The Music Trust, which offers a flexible, creative, energetic response to the situation of music in Australia, with commitment to the best ideas for fostering excellence, innovation, and access.
Managing Director of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Sophie Galaise congratulated Dr Letts on behalf of the Board, musicians and staff of the MSO. “The contribution that Dr Letts has made on the Australian arts landscape over the past few decades has been formidable,” she said.
“His deep insight into the musician’s experience and his intellectual rigour has had a major impact not only here in Australia, but around the world. From all of us here at the MSO, we sincerely congratulate Dr Letts on receiving this recognition,” said Ms Galaise.
The Sir Bernard Heinze Memorial Award has been awarded annually since 1998. Past recipients include Yorta Yorta soprano, composer and Artistic Director of Short Black Opera Deborah Cheetham AO, conductor Richard Gill AO, composer Carl Vine AO, singer Yvonne Kenny AM, composer Peter Sculthorpe AO OBE, conductor John Hopkins AM OBE, horn player Barry Tuckwell AC OBE, Australian Chamber Orchestra leader Richard Tognetti AO, conductor and composer Brett Dean, conductor Simone Young AM, and music educator Sir Frank Callaway AO CMG OBE.
Image: Dr Richard Letts AM (supplied)