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Artist Biography

William Barton - didgeridu

William Barton

“William Barton's didjeridu playing, resourcefully mixing complex patterns of pulsations with lofted pitches and sharp accents, was a striking presence . .” SMH Review Australian Chamber Orchestra Huntington Festival 2003

“William Barton's mastery of the didjeridu absolutely captivated the children, who followed his hand commands to deliver laughing kookaburras and rainstorms of varying intensity, all 300 children as one.” Tina Broad Music Forum Feb-Apr 2006 p 55

William Barton is considered one of Australia's leading didjeridu players and composers. Born in Mount Isa, he was taught to play the instrument from an early age by his uncle, an Elder of the Wannyi, Lardi and Kalkadunga tribes of North Western Queensland. In 1997, at the age 17, he made his classical debut with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.

Now based in Brisbane, William's recent Australian performances have included the Sydney Festival's Symphony In The Domain with Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Melbourne International Festival of the Arts, the Australian Chamber Orchestra's Huntington Festival, The Brisbane Festival, Australian Festival of Chamber Music and with The Song Company.

International performances have included Canada's Edmonton Festival, the Estonian Music Festival, the Wassoi World Music Festival in Japan, and the Phoenix and New Zealand Symphony Orchestras.

In 2003, William was a joint winner of the Music Council of Australia/Freedman Foundation Award for Classical Music. He views this award as recognition of his instrument as a valid classical instrument. William wants his audiences, many of whom have not encountered an Aboriginal Australian, to see the didjeridu as a living dynamic thing with a vital presence in contemporary classical music.

In 2003 William was Artist-in Residence at The Queensland Orchestra, which saw William touring Queensland schools with his unique blend of traditional didjeridu fused with classical music, contemporary rock and fusion-techno. William composed and performed a major commission for the Queensland Biennial Festival of Music called Songs of Mother Country. He also performed it at the Colorado Music Festival.The Queensland Festival also produced Kalkadoon Man, a documentary screened on the ABC, which sees William journey back to his homelands to find and make a didjeridu out in the bush.

William has developed a strong bond with Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe, who has re-written some of his key works to include parts for the didjeridu, including Earth Cry, which William has performed with The Queensland Orchestra in Brisbane and Tokyo. William featured in the Australian premiere of Peter Sculthorpe's Requiem, a major work for orchestra, chorus and didjeridu, with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra at the 2004 Adelaide Festival and with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at the Lichfield Festival, UK. He reprised this performance in 2005 in a number of performances, including with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra at the Ten Days On The Island Festival. The Four Winds Barnstorming Tour in March 2006 and the Four Winds at Easter in April feature three of Peter's string quartets with didjeridu and also Jabiru Deaming for percussion and didjeridu.

Peter Sculthorpe said at the time William received the MCA/Freedman Award “Music for the didjeridu is improvised. It can be notated but graphic symbols are too restrictive. Over the years I have worked with a number of didjeridu players, with works of mine for both chamber ensemble and orchestra. All splendid performers, they have tended to play the instrument with little regard for the other players. William is the only player that I know who makes a careful study of the music. After listening to it countless times, he is then able to complement the sounds made by the chamber group or orchestra. His performances are a true collaboration between performer and composer.” Music Forum, Aug-Sept 2003.

In 2005 William made his debut with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, worked with the Goldner String Quartet in a national tour for Musica Viva and at the Aldburough Festival (UK), and was a featured performer at the 90th Anniversary Anzac Day Commemoration Service at Gallipoli.

William also appeared as a featured soloist in the 2005 Queensland Music Festival's - Credo The Innocence of God, a project by Fabrica with the Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe. Composed and conducted by Andrea Molino, this multimedia music theatre work was performed simultaneously via satellite in Belfast, Istanbul, Jerusalem and Brisbane.

William's ongoing collaborations and commissions with orchestras, choral directors and composers in Australia, America and Europe are creating a strong and positive sustainable future for the instrument and Australia's cultural heritage.

Through such collaborations and projects, William Barton aims to present the virtuosic potential of his instrument and richness of his Australian culture to audiences throughout the world. He hopes they will see this music, not just as an illustration of some exotic antiquity, but as a living, dynamic process, requiring considerable technique, stamina and study, equal to that of any conventional classically trained professional musician.

William Barton was the 2005 Young Queenslander of the Year Metropolitan Finalist.

William's performances for children are becoming legendary. The quote above was from a report of an end of year concert at Virginia State School in December 2005. This was broadcast live around Australia on ABC Classic FM. The report also says “Kookaburra calls, dingo howls, beatboxing, turntable scratching, tropical rainstorms – if you closed your eyes it was easy to forget that this was really just one man with a piece of wood.”

The Four Winds Barnstorming Tour will feature at least seven free schools concerts for children in the south east. The Four Winds has also commissioned several new works for William, many of which will be recorded for an ABC recording after the tour in March and the Four Winds at Easter. The composers include William himself (Fire for string quartet and didjeridu), Philip Glass, Louis Hardin (aka Moondog), Thomas Oboe Lee and Elena Kats-Chernin. The recording, tour and festival will also feature Peter Sculthorpe's string quartets with didjeridu.

Two of William Barton's recordings, The Journey and Spirit Song feature on his website (see below). There are also two recorded performances of Peter Sculthorpe's Earth Cry, one on Naxos with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (8.557382) and the other for the ABC with the conductor Michael Christie and the Queensland Orchestra (476 192-1).

see a list of artists that have performed at previous Four Winds