Brett Dean

Brett Dean studied in his hometown of Brisbane, Australia, before moving in 1984 to Germany, where he was a member of the Berlin Philharmonic for 14 years, during which time he began composing.

His music is championed by many leading conductors and orchestras worldwide, including Sir Simon Rattle, Vladimir Jurowski, Simone Young, Daniel Harding, 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.

Dean began composing in 1988, initially concentrating on experimental film and radio projects and as an improvising performer. His 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 best new opera.

Dean enjoys a busy performing career as violist and conductor, performing his own Viola Concerto with many of the world’s leading orchestras. He 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, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Australian National Academy of Music. His imaginative conducting programs usually center 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.

Recent highlights include the world premiere of a new large-scale work for double chorus and orchestra, In This Brief Moment, in September 2022, commissioned by Orchestre National de Lyon, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. In the 2020-21 season, Dean began a three-year tenure as composer-in-residence of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which sees an immersion in Dean’s music and Dean working with the orchestra as conductor, violist and mentoring the Young Composer initiative. His opera Hamlet received its U.S. premiere at the Met in May 2022.

Dean’s music has been recorded for BIS, Chandos, Warner Classics, ECM Records and ABC Classics. Highlights include a BIS release in 2016 of works including Shadow Music, Testament, Short Stories and Etudenfest, performed by Swedish Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Dean; his Viola Concerto has also been released on BIS with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. The DVD of Hamlet was released by Glyndebourne in June 2018 and won a Gramophone Award in 2019. 

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

Please note: Biographies are based on information provided to the CSO by the artists or their representatives. More current information may be available on websites of the artists or their management.