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Brett Dean

Composer, Viola, Conductor
Composer in Residence, Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin
Artist in Residence, Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Artist in Residence, Swedish Chamber Orchestra

  • Brett Dean studied in Brisbane before moving to Germany in 1984 where he was a member of the Berlin Philharmonic for fourteen years, during which time he began composing. His music is championed by many of the leading conductors and orchestras worldwide, including Sir Simon Rattle, Vladimir Jurowski, David Robertson, Andris Nelsons, Marin Alsop and Sakari Oramo. Much of Dean’s work draws from literary, political, environmental or visual stimuli, including a number of compositions inspired by artwork by his wife Heather Betts.

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  • Brett Dean began composing in 1988, initially concentrating on experimental film and radio projects and as an improvising performer. Dean’s reputation as a composer continued to develop, and it was through works such as his clarinet concerto Ariel's Music (1995), which won an award from the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers, and Carlo (1997) for strings, sampler and tape, inspired by the music of Carlo Gesualdo, that he gained international recognition.

    In 2009 Dean won the Grawemeyer Award for music composition for his violin concerto The Lost Art of Letter Writing and in 2016 was awarded the Don Banks Music Award by Australia Council, acknowledging his sustained and significant contribution to Australia’s musical scene. In June 2017 his second opera Hamlet was premiered at Glyndebourne Festival Opera to great acclaim, winning both the 2018 South Bank Sky Arts Awards and International Opera Awards for opera.

    Dean enjoys a busy performing career as violist and conductor, performing his own Viola Concerto with many of the world’s leading orchestras. Dean is a natural chamber musician, frequently collaborating with other soloists and ensembles to perform both his own chamber works and standard repertoire, including projects with the Doric Quartet, Scharoun Ensemble and Alban Gerhardt. Dean’s imaginative conducting programmes usually centre around his own works combined with other composers and highlights include his appointment as Creative Chair at Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich 2017/18, projects with the BBC Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Concertgebouw Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony, Sydney Symphony, BBC Philharmonic, Gothenburg Symphony, Toronto Symphony, Tonkünstler-Orchester, Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra and as Artist in Residence with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.

    Dean is 2018/19 Composer in Residence of Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin, which sees Dean join the orchestra as soloist in his Viola Concerto, and a focus on Dean’s orchestral and chamber works throughout the season. Dean also continues as Artist in Residence with Sydney Symphony Orchestra across 2016-2018.

    Highlights of 2018/19 include the world premiere of Dean’s Cello Concerto for Alban Gerhardt, which will be premiered by Sydney Symphony conducted by David Robertson in August 2018 and receives its European premiere from the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Sakari Oramo in October 2018. In April 2019 a new chamber work will be premiered at New York’s Lincoln Center and London’s Wigmore Hall, and Dean’s String Quartet No.3 will be premiered by the Doric String Quartet in June 2019 in an Australian tour.

    Dean opens the season performing the UK premiere of Approach: Prelude to a Canon at the BBC Proms with Swedish Chamber Orchestra, before performing the German premiere at Rheingau Festival, where he is 2018 artist in focus. Elsewhere this season Dean joins Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin and Helsinki Philharmonic to perform his Viola Concerto and conducts a number of orchestras including Sydney Symphony, Adelaide Symphony, Swedish Chamber Orchestra and the Australian National Academy of Music.

    Brett Dean’s music has been recorded for BIS, Chandos, Warner Classics, ECM Records and ABC Classics, with a BIS release in 2016 of works including Shadow Music, Testament, Short Stories and Etudenfest performed by Swedish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Dean. Dean’s Viola Concerto has also been released on BIS with the Sydney Symphony, and a DVD of Hamlet was released by Glyndebourne in June 2018.

    The works of Brett Dean are published by Boosey & Hawkes.

    2018/19 season / 614 words. Not to be altered without permission.


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Recent composing highlights

Hamlet (2014-2016) - opera to a libretto by Matthew Jocelyn based on Shakespeare's play. World premiere by Glynderbourne Opera conducted by Vladimir Jurowski in June 2017.

Dramatis Personae (2013) - trumpet concerto for Hakan Hardenberger, world premiere Grafenegg Festival and co-commissioned by Leipzig Gewandhausorchester, Danish National Symphony and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestras.

The Last Days of Socrates (2012) - world premiere Berlin Philharmonic / Rundfunkchor Berlin conducted by Simon Rattle with soloist John Tomlinson. Co-commissioned by Los Angeles Philharmonic/Dudamel and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Simone Young.

Bliss (2004-2009) - opera to a libretto by Amanda Holden after the novel by Peter Carey. World premiere by Opera Australia in Sydney and Melbourne, and European premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival.

The Lost Art of Letter Writing (2006) - violin concerto for Frank Peter Zimmermann, world premiere Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Brett Dean and co-commissioned by the Cologne Philharmonie and Stockholm Philharmonic. Winner of the 2009 Grawemeyer Award.

The music of Brett Dean is published by Boosey & Hawkes 

Conducting repertoire

Brett Dean’s career as conductor is blossoming alongside his work as composer and performer, his imaginative programmes usually centred around his own works combined with those of other composers.

Recent conducting highlights include the Sydney Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Concertgebouw Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony, BBC Philharmonic, Gothenburg Symphony, Tonkünstler-Orchester, Northern Sinfonia and as Artist in Residence with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.

A selection of Brett Dean’s recent and future conducting programmes

Strauss Till Eulenspiegel
Mozart Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat for Violin, Viola and Orchestra
Dean Beggars and Angels

Lutoslawski Sacher Variation for solo cello
Lutoslawski Symphony No.3
Dvorak Cello Concerto in B minor

R. Meale Clouds Now and Then 
Thomas Meadowcroft Peacemaker Tattoo 
Lisa Illean Land's End 
Georges Lentz "Caeli enarrant ..." III 
Brett Dean Engelsflügel 
Anthony Pateras Immediata 

Beethoven Adagio molto e mesto (from Rasumovsky Quartet No.1, Op.59) arr. Dean
Dean Testament
Beethoven Symphony No.3 ‘Eroica’

Jean Sibelius Scènes historiques, Op.25, No.1 ‘All'overtura’
Brett Dean Dramatis Personae
Jean Sibelius Symphony No.3 in C major, Op.52

Brahms Academic Festival Overture
Bruch Double Concerto for viola and clarinet (play/direct)
Dean Ariel’s Music (clarinet concerto)
Brahms Tragic Overture

Brett Dean's Viola Concerto

Commissioned by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic & Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

“Having done so many pieces in recent years that tell an extra-musical story, or have a poetic or literary title, it seemed fitting that this should be a piece that examines first and foremost purely musical ideas... It’s nevertheless an essay in which I inhabit part-sonic and part-lyrical words as in much of my music... I’m treating it the same as a concerto I’d write for any other viola soloist, and certainly want to give myself something that I personally enjoy playing in terms of challenge, expression and virtuosity.”
Brett Dean on his Viola Concerto


Duration: 27 minutes

Instrumentation: 3(I,III=picc,II=picc,afl).2(II=corA).2(II=bcl).2(II=dbn)-

Composition date: 2005

Click here to see the publisher's information on the Viola Concerto

Performances past and future include: BBC Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Sydney Symphony, Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin, St Louis Symphony, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Danish National Symphony, Vancouver Symphony, Sydney Symphony, Melbourne Symphony, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, Dresden Philharmonic, Hamburg Philharmonic, Tonkunstler Orchestra, Orchestre National de Lyon, Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, Residentie Orkest, Trondheim Symphony, Malaysian Philharmonic

Viola Concerto conductors: Marc Albrecht, Lionel Bringuier, Baldur Brönnimann, Reinbert de Leeuw, André de Ridder, Olari Elts, Rumon Gamba, Marko Letonja, Hannu Lintu, James MacMillan, Sakari Oramo, Peter Oundjian, David Robertson, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, John Storgards, François-Xavier Roth, Bramwell Tovey, Simone Young, Lothar Zagrosek

Click here to watch the performance on YouTube 

Viola Concerto Reviews

“Dean is a top-flight viola player as well as an upwardly mobile composer. His new Viola Concerto is a substantial affair, elegantly proportioned and full of colourful musical imagery." Guardian

"Dean has written something as personal as one would expect. The haunting and arresting sounds are all his own, and bright colours suggest a strong connection to his country’s landscape. Indeed, the peaceful close, in which the previously hectic solo viola emerges purified, evokes a lullaby in which the earth seems to be singing itself to sleep." The Times

“Each element of Dean's brilliant orchestration could be savored, as well as his own virtuosic playing.” Los Angeles Times

“...tightly structured and well-proportioned... Dean is a fine soloist, too, throwing off the blazingly virtuosic passages with unruffled ease while sustaining a strong, full-bodied tone. His orchestration is imaginative, full of evocative colours and striking effects” The Australian

“…Dean has lost none of his virtuosity as a performer, while confirming his reputation as an up-and-coming craftsman-composer… Curiously beautiful, somewhat enigmatic? No question.” Financial Times

Chamber music

Doric Quartet & Brett Dean:
Haydn String Quartet Op.20 No.1
Brett Dean Epitaphs (string quintet)
Brahms Quintet No.2 in G maj Op.111

Doric Quartet & Brett Dean – Ophelia Songs
Haydn String Quartet Op.76 No.65
Brett Dean String Quartet No.2 “And Once I Played Ophelia”
Brahms Ophelia Songs WoO.22 (arr Reimann)
Brahms String Quintet No.2 in G maj Op.111

With Doric Quartet, Brett Dean, SopranoTBC

Brett Dean performs a range of chamber music projects; future highlights include projects with Alban Gerhardt, the Scharoun Ensemble and at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.


Conductors who have recently conducted Brett Dean’s music include:
Marin Alsop, Andrey Boreyko, Martin Brabbins, Baldur Brönnimann, Oleg Caetani, Sylvain Cambreling, Nicholas Collon, Gustavo Dudamel, Reinbert de Leeuw, Olari Elts, Mark Elder, Thierry Fischer, Rumon Gamba, HK Gruber, Daniel Harding, Manfred Honeck, Elgar Howarth, Vladimir Jurowski, Tonu Kaljuste, Hannu Lintu, James MacMillan, Susanna Mälkki, Andris Nelsons, Jonathan Nott, Sakari Oramo, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, Peter Oundjian, Sir Simon Rattle, Lawrence Renes, David Robertson, François-Xavier Roth, Kwamé Ryan, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Lan Shui, Dmitri Slobodeniuk, Thomas Søndergård, Markus Stenz, John Storgårds, Richard Tognetti, Joshua Weilerstein, Hugh Wolff, François Xavier-Roth, Simone Young, Lothar Zagrosek.

A voice of fertile imagination, originality and expressive subtlety.

Chicago Tribune

...the two works here show Dean to be a formidable and musical player as well as an impressive composer. The Viola Concerto confirms the impression it made at its first performance… It is one of Dean's most successful orchestral works, an asymmetrical, three-movement structure that pivots about a dark, central scherzo.


…a towering masterpiece. Multi-layered and rhythmically complex, Fire Music’s imaginative depth, sophistication and sheer impact marks it as one of the most important works to come from an Australian composer.

The Australian

Intermusica represents Brett Dean worldwide

Catherine Gibbs
Associate Director
+44 20 7608 9946

Maebh Lehane
Associate Artist Manager
+44 20 7608 9924

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Tim Mead

Piano accompanist

Roger Vignoles