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The Monash Art Ensemble (MAE)

A collaboration between the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music (SZCSoM) and Monash University Academy of Performing Arts, and has enjoyed philanthropic support from The Vizard (2012-2017) and Salzer (2016-) Foundations. The MAE commissions, performs and records new, mainly Australian, work for a mixed ensemble ranging in size from around ten to twenty players.

The MAE is also an extra-curricular project for Monash University students and staff to collaborate with independent artists, composers and musicians. Selected by blind audition, MAE students have the opportunity to work on mostly new, but not exclusively Australian compositions alongside staff and professional experts who play and act as mentors. The philosophy that drives the MAE is to play music that explores the interfaces between composition and improvisation, in which new technologies can also play a role.  MAE began in 2012 during the final months of Paul Grabowsky’s tenure as AD of the Australian Art Orchestra, with the aim of encouraging mid-career artists, nurturing young talent and developing audiences outside the critical mass of cultural infrastructure in Melbourne’s CBD. It has engaged University funding and infrastructure to leverage significant philanthropic support, expand music audiences in the south east of Melbourne and commission, perform, record and distribute new music.

Its primary aims are: the commissioning, performance and documentation of polystylistic new works of Australian music that explore possible interfaces between musical notation and improvisation to mentor music students via the engagement of leading independent practitioners and music staff alongside them in the performance of new music to engage artistic research to understand and evaluate the challenges thrown up by the creation of new works, particularly in terms of ontological and phenomenological aspects of reflexivity in improvisation.

As Artistic Director Paul Grabowsky explains, “Jazz represents only one of the many traditions that imply improvisation – it’s particularly exciting to see students from non-jazz backgrounds express themselves freely within the group. This applies equally to composers, who, along with the mentors, are just as likely to learn from the students and vice versa”.

Since its inception in 2012, the MAE have commissioned 22 new works. The ensemble has also collaborated every year with guest international artists, often through partnerships with other organisations, such as the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. These significant artists include composer/bassist Mark Helias (USA) composer/trombonist/electronics virtuoso George Lewis (USA), composer/pianist Django Bates (GB), composer/trumpeter Dave Douglas (USA), composer/trumpeter Tomasz Stanko (Pol), composer/pianist Carla Bley (USA), bassist Steve Swallow (USA), composer/saxophonist Tony Malaby and pianist Kris Davis (USA).

The MAE features annually at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and have previously released 6 CDs to critical acclaim including 2016 APRA Art Music Award, Jazz Work of the Year; 2015 Bell Award, Best Australian Contemporary Avant-garde Jazz Album; 2014 APRA Art Music Award, Jazz Work of the Year; 2014 APRA Art Music Award, Instrumental Work of the Year; and 2013 Bell Award, Best Avant Garde Recording. Barney McCall’s Zephyrix, commissioned and recorded by the MAE is the latest success, being nominated for the 2019 ARIA Award for Best Jazz Album, and winning the Bell Award for Best Produced Album.

The Monash Art Ensemble Creative Committee are:

Artistic Director, Professor Paul Grabowsky AO
Associate Professor Robert Burke
Dr Paul Williamson
Professor Margaret Barrett


Robert Salzer Foundation