Prize honours inspirational poet

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Les Murray
Les Murray gives a poetry reading at the National Gallery in 2002. PHOTO: AAP Alan Porritt

The late Les Murray would be pleased about the launch of a competition for new composers inspired by one of his celebrated poems, said his long-time agent and friend Margaret Connolly.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP announced his inaugural Archbishop’s Prize for New Composers which invites people aged between 18 and 35 to compose a short piece of choral music with lyrics from Mr Murray’s poem Animal Nativity.

A panel of judges will award a cash prize of $2500 to the winner whose piece will be performed before thousands of people at the Christmas concert in St Mary’s Cathedral in December. Also on offer are second and third prizes of $1000 and $500 respectively plus paid flights to Sydney for any interstate winners needing to claim their prize.

Les Murray, who passed away last week, spends time reading in the Sydney campus of Notre Dame Australia.
Les Murray during a visit to the Sydney campus of Notre Dame Australia. PHOTO: UNDA

“Les was a great encourager of young talent, and I think he would have been very happy about this,” said Ms Connolly who was Mr Murray’s agent for 30 years. “People would send him their poems and he would spend a lot of time responding, writing notes on them and giving them interesting suggestions.”

The internationally loved poet who died in a Taree nursing home in April had a “very generous” attitude to his poems, being happy for readers to take from them whatever meaning they wished, Ms Connolly said.

“His wife Val is a great lover of music and was very happy to give her permission for Les’ poem to be used for this competition.”

Archbishop Fisher said he hoped to showcase the talents of young, unpublished composers across Australia. “This competition honours the historical contribution the Church has made to the arts and I personally chose the poem by Les Murray to honour this inspirational poet who died this year and contributed so much to the arts in Australia and had such a strong Catholic faith”, he said.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for a talented new composer to have their work recognised publicly and performed by one of the nation’s oldest and most respected church choirs, the St Mary’s Cathedral Choir at our Christmas Concert.”

At Mr Murray’s state memorial service at the NSW State Library in Sydney in June, he was remembered by a priest who knew him as a mystic who regarded all reality as “suffused with the presence of God”.

“Much of his work belongs, I believe, to the Christian mystical tradition,” Fr Paul McCabe, a retired priest based in Armidale, told the 300 guests in the library’s Reading Room.  “He himself said that he wrote poetry to explore reality which ultimately mirrors divine truth, and all his work he dedicated ‘to the glory of God’.”

Competition entries close at 5pm on Monday 30 September. For details and an entry form see sydneycatholic.org.

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