Distinguished musician receives Sir Bernard Heinze Memorial Award

Heinze Award Richard Letts
Dr Richard Letts' contribution to music has been recognised with the prestigious Sir Bernard Heinze Award. Image: VCA

Musician, author and advocate, Dr Richard Letts, has been awarded the 2020 Sir Bernard Heinze Memorial Award for his outstanding contribution to Australian music.

Presented annually by the University of Melbourne and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the prestigious award honours the memory of Sir Bernard Heinze (1894 – 1982), who for 31 years was Ormond Professor of Music at the University of Melbourne, and one of the major pioneers of orchestral life in Australia.

Dr Letts’ career in music spans 40-plus years and is dotted with success, including being elected President of the International Music Council, UNESCO's advisory body on matters of music in 2005, and founding in 2013, The Music Trust, which played a key role on advocating for music in education and offering fellowships.

Born in Sydney, he completed his PhD at the University of California (Berkeley) in 1971, before going on to become the director of a community performing arts school on San Francisco’s East Bay, and later the downtown music school of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and the largest such school in the USA, before being an elected Vice-President of the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts in 1981.

On his return to Australia in 1982, Dr Letts became a strong advocate for music and music education - conducting research, writing policy documents, editing periodicals, publishing four books and hundreds of articles and championing music as being vital for children as well as improving government support for artists, through his work with the Music Council of Australia and the  Australian Music Centre.

University of Melbourne Ormond Professor of Music, Gary McPherson, of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music said he was thrilled to see Dr Letts acknowledged for his work.

“Richard Letts has had a profound influence in reshaping the pattern of government support for music in Australia,” Professor McPherson 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.”

Managing director of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Sophie Galaise said: “The contribution that Dr Letts has made on the Australian arts landscape over the past few decades has been formidable. 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.”

The Sir Bernard Heinze Memorial Award has been awarded annually since 1998. Last year’s award went to Yorta Yorta soprano, composer and Artistic Director of Short Black Opera Deborah Cheetham.