Brett Dean was born in 1961 and raised and educated in Brisbane. He grew up in an environment where music was very much a part of family life. His grandfather was a bandleader, his mother studied music at tertiary level and both parents were strong supporters of the Queensland Youth Orchestra based in Brisbane. He started on the violin at the age of eight and later studied viola with Elizabeth Morgan and John Curro at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, graduating in 1982 with the Conservatorium Medal for the highest achieving Student of the Year.
After four seasons as Principal Viola of the Queensland and Australian Youth Orchestras and numerous solo performances throughout Australasia, he travelled to Germany in 1984 on an Australia Council grant. He studied with the eminent violist Wolfram Christ and became a permanent member of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1985, a position he occupied for 15 years.
Brett Dean began composing in 1988, initially working on film, radio and improvisatory projects. He became established as a composer in his own right through works such as Ariel’s Music (1995), a clarinet concerto which won an award from the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers, the piano quintet Voices of Angels (1996) and Twelve Angry Men (1996) for 12 cellos. His most widely-known work is Carlo (1997) for strings, sampler and tape, inspired by the music of Carlo Gesualdo, which has received over 50 performances. This work was once described in the Sydney Morning Herald as perhaps the most forcefully striking achievement in Australian writing for orchestral strings in over thirty years.
Other scores have been commissioned by major ensembles including the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Modern, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Cologne Philharmonic Orchestras.
Since returning to Australia in 2000, Brett Dean has established himself as one of the most gifted all-round musicians of his generation. Accolades since then include the 2001 Paul Lowin composition Prize, for his Song
Cycle Winter Songs, and invitations to be Composer in Residence for the Cheltenham Festival in 2003, and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra during 2003-2004. The latter ensemble’s performance of Moments of Bliss, an orchestral precursor of his forthcoming opera Bliss, was awarded 'Best Composition' at the 2005 Australian Classical Music Awards. In the same year, he premiered his Viola Concerto in London as soloist with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and has subsequently performed this work with co-commissioners the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Sydney Symphony. In 2006, he was appointed as Artistic Director of the Australian National Academy of Music which is headquartered in Melbourne. The works of Brett Dean attract considerable attention, not only having been championed by conductors such as Sir Simon Rattle, but also through recordings with labels such as ABC Classics and BIS records.
As a performer, he has given numerous first performances of solo and chamber works by some of the leading composers of our time. He has also conducted ensembles such as the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Scharoun Ensemble and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.
Brett Dean has returned to Griffith University for regular visits since his graduation with a Bachelor of Music from the Queensland Conservatorium more than 25 years ago. He has acted as consultant to the String Department and has appeared as guest artist, teacher and mentor on numerous occasions working with individual students, ensembles and master classes in both areas of viola and composition. His vast experience as a member of one of the world’s most prestigious orchestras, a much commissioned and performed composer, and a creative artist with a wide range of skills and insights have been of benefit to all with whom he has worked. He performs regularly with staff members Stephen Emmerson and Paul Dean as the ensemble 'Dean-Emmerson-Dean', which has made a number of prestigious national and international tours. He has also collaborated on several occasions with the Griffith Trio.
In 2011, Mr Dean was awarded the Queensland Conservatorium Alumnus of the Year at the inaugural Arts, Education and Law Alumni Awards in late 2011. Unfortunately Brett was unable to be attend the event on the night but recorded a message.
“I gained so much from my time at that wonderful institution (the Queensland Conservatorium)... it gave me such good support and a deep musical education... it gave me the basis to start writing my own music.”