Brett Dean is an Australian composer, violist and conductor. He studied in his hometown of Brisbane, before moving to Germany in 1984 and playing for the Berlin Philharmonic for 14 years whilst beginning his composing career. He has won several awards for his musical work and in 2016 he was awarded the Don Banks Music Award by the Australia Council to acknowledge his contribution to Australia’s musical scene. In June 2017 his second opera Hamlet premiered at Glyndebourne Festival Opera and won the International Opera Awards for Best New Opera and the 2018 South Bank Sky Arts Awards.
These are a few of Brett Dean’s favourite things…
I like the flexibility of tea, how there are so many different types for different times of the day. Most of the time, I drink good old builders tea or English breakfast with a splash of milk. But I also drink green tea and herbal tea or sleepytime tea at night. Tea has a certain pause about it, it is a sort of cadence in the day and something that is easy to take for granted, but it is an important part of my day and something I treasure. Tea has more nuance than coffee, though I sometimes like a strong coffee too.
As a musician and composer, music is undoubtedly one of the things that gets me up in the morning and motivates me to do what I do. A little like tea, because I am a professional musician, one can take it for granted but it is something that always thoroughly fascinates me. I love listening to the radio and not necessarily knowing what I am listening to. If it is classical then there is a chance I will know what the piece is, but even then I might not know who is performing it, which is an interesting listening exercise. All manner of music, the storytelling and expression that comes through these organised and sometimes less organised sounds, is one of the wonders of the world.
Film has always been a source of inspiration for me. Cinema, like music, is an art form that evolves over a period of time, whereas painting, my wife Heather’s art form, for example, is set in time. Music and film are transitory. I have always been fascinated by how filmmakers go about the use of time in their art form as I often see parallels with how a piece of music might unfold. Sonically I have also always been intrigued by how sound is used in cinema, not just music. I particularly enjoy films when I can see them in the cinema, although I have just moved to a part of the country where the nearest cinema is quite a few miles away. Through lockdown, like many other people, my wife and I turned the family home into a cinema and co-created our own mini film festival working through themes such as courtroom dramas or John Houston films.
Owning a dog
I am very fond of our dog and the concept of being a dog owner, which is a new thing for me. It has been an added thrill in my life and she is asleep next to me right now. She is a Belgian Shepherd with some lurcher/greyhound in her. The Shepherd side of her makes her very loyal and a wonderful walking companion. One of the godsends during lockdown was to go walking with her. We were living near Newbury and have just moved to Wiltshire and it is wonderful to go walking through the fields and make use of the brilliant British public footpaths, which strangely, we don’t really have in Australia.
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I am not an especially active person, we musicians tend to sit a lot (or stand as a composer). I walk every day but I am often at something approaching my happiest when I am in the surf in Queensland, though I haven’t been back to Australia since the very early stages of the pandemic. The beaches of Queensland are something that I do miss; that sense of catching the wave with your body. I have never learnt board riding but I have always loved body surfing, there is something elemental and physically refreshing being tossed around by the foam of the waves.