Graeme Koehne is one of Australia’s leading compositional figures, now gaining increasing attention internationally. In Koehne’s earliest compositions, the influence of Boulez is strong, however it was through his exploration of the work of Toru Takemitsu that Koehne initially grew to appreciate the vitality of the music of Debussy and Ravel. Those influences are evident in Rainforst, which is classed among the major works of Australian music of the 1980s, and brought Koehne’s name to national (and subsequently international) attention, winning the prestigious Australian Composers Award at the 1982 Adelaide Festival, and ranking third overall at the Paris International Rostrum of Composers in 1983. The piece has received a large number of performances throughout Australia and Europe.
In 1983 Graeme Murphy commissioned Koehne to compose the score for his Sydney dance Company’s new production based on Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant – the ballet’s success led to a continuing association with Murphy & Koehne, as they continued to collaborate on Limited Edition, Old Friends, New Friends, Nearly Beloved, Gallery and Tivoli). As the years went by, Koehne also received commissions for a variety of works of more intimate scale, including works for the Reger String Trio, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Australian String Quartet. He also began to receive commissions from the Australian Ballet, the Queensland Ballet, the Western Australian Ballet and more, as the success of the ballet works established Koehne’s reputation as Australia’s foremost composer for ballet.
When the opportunity to advance his studies was provided by the award of a Harkness Fellowship in 1985, Koehne based himself at Yale University, which provided the opportunity to undertake private studies with Virgil Thomson. This also gave him the opportunity to study closely with Louis Andriessen and Jacob Druckman.
Koehne has found continued stimulation and fulfilment in the collaborative nature of working in theatre and in film. His chamber opera Love Burns, to a libretto by Louis Nowra, was a highlight of the 1992 Adelaide Festival Of The Arts, and has subsequently been given new productions by the Lyric Opera Of Queensland and Sydney’s Belvoir Street Theatre. Koehne has made several excursions into writing for film and television, usually in collaboration with colleague Michael Atkinson, including the movie Heaven’s Burning (an early vehicle for Russel Crowe), the TV documentary Giants Of Time, and an award-winning advertisement for the South Australian Tourism Commission.
In 1998, Koehne became the first composer commissioned by the Australian Ballet to write a full evening work. Following its premiere at the Sydney Opera House, the production subsequently toured to Melbourne, Adelaide and Canberra and was recorded by Orchestra Victoria for ABC Classics.
Graeme Koehne has served on several occasions on the Australia Council, the Australian Government’s arts funding advisory body, and since 2002 has been Chair of the Australia Council Music Board and a member of the Australian Council. He has served in various advisory capacities for the South Australian Government, and in 1998-99 was South Australia’s Composer-in-Residence. He was awarded a Doctorate of Music from the University of Adelaide in 2002 and in 2004 received the Sir Bernard Heinze Award from the University of Melbourne.