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Described as ‘incandescent... a masterly display of skill and insight... as an apologist for contemporary music-making, you would search hard to find this young clarinettist's equal’ (The Age), clarinettist Ashley William Smith has emerged as one of Australia’s most exciting young musicians.

Winner of the 'other instruments' category of the 2010 ABC Symphony International Young Performer Award, Ashley Smith joined the popular 'Cappuccino Concerts' team of dedicated and extraordinarily talented Australian musicians, led by the pianist Irina Vasileva in 2011, to produce the inaugural 'GROVE CLASSICS' chamber music series to open up classical music to broader audiences.

Born in Perth in 1984, Ashley has presented major public recitals throughout Australia and the east coast of the USA. He has appeared as a soloist with the Tasmanian and Queensland Symphony Orchestras, Orchestra Victoria and the Orchestra of the Australian National Academy of Music. Ashley’s dedication to the promotion of new music has seen him perform numerous Australian premieres, especially those of works by Jorg Widmann and Magnus Lindberg. His Melbourne premiere of the Lindberg Concerto was ranked amongst The Age Newspaper's Top 5 Classical Performances 2010 and was described as ‘a stand-out occasion ... for once a talented performer fully identified with the music he was playing; it was impossible to imagine a more committed, sympathetic interpretation’  (The Age).

Other career highlights include performing the Lindberg Clarinet Quintet at the gala concert of the World Congress of Chamber Music Competitions and recitals of music by Australian composers in New York and Washington D.C. 

Ashley has future performances scheduled in the USA, Canada and Europe with his duo partner, Australian pianist Aura Go. In 2013 Ashley appear with the Chamber Music Society of the Lincoln Centre, the Australian String Quartet and will take a core position in Melbourne's Syzygy Ensemble. 

Ashley graduated from the UWA with First Class Honours and prizes including the Lady Callaway Medal, the Edith Cowan Prize. In addition he was awarded the Sir Harold Bailey Award as the most outstanding graduate of the UWA Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and was nominated for the J.A. Wood Prize, the University's most prestigious honour. Ashley is also an alumnus of the Australian National Academy of Music and in 2010 was an Academy Fellow. In 2009 he won both the jury and audience prizes at the Academy's Concerto Competition and in 2010 was awarded the inaugural Harold Mitchell Fellowship. He is currently pursuing postgraduate studies on full scholarship at Yale University and is mentored by David Shifrin. 

Ashley is the Yale School of Music's current nominee for the prestigious Arthur FootePrize. Most recently, Ashley was named the 2012 Music Council of Australia FreedmanFellow and will subsequently pursue an international recital tour and study program in 2013.  

Alongside his passion for new music and the clarinet, Ashley is a die-hard fan of opera and is undergoing intense tuition to tame his recently discovered heldentenor voice. He has dreams of one day singing at the Met Opera in New York.

Coffee Break Interview: Ashley Smith

 

Background... I am also from Perth. After completing my BMus (Hons) at UWA in 2006 I went to the Australian National Academy of Music in Melbourne for three years. For the first half of 2010 I was an ANAM Fellow and am currently mid-way through a MMus at Yale University in the United States.

Most memorable performance... Without a doubt, performing the Lindberg Clarinet Concerto with the ANAM Orchestra and Brett Dean. It was such a thrill to perform one of my favourite works for the instrument with an orchestra consisting entirely of my best friends. We received a fifteen minute standing ovation.

My most terrifying/embarrassing onstage moment ... When I realised that I was going to have to play an encore after the above Lindberg performance, and finding myself playing a piece of music called Clair by Franco Donatoni (perhaps the most difficult work in my repertoire). I don’t actually remember starting the piece, but about half way through my brain clicked –in and I realised that I was playing from memory (and to a full house) something which I hadn’t looked at for about three months. That performance came entirely down to muscle memory, and absolutely no brain activity whatsoever!

My dream recital... A concert of new music by Australian composers with an (imagined) full-time Australian new music ensemble at the new (imagined) Perth Recital Centre: a beautiful glass, steel and wood structure located on the Perth riverfront, purpose built for chamber music.

Sunday afternoons are normally spent ... Going for a run around the bridges while playing air-violin to my i-pod, followed by catching up with family.

The piece of music I would show to convince someone of the power of music ... I know it is a cliché, but I have to say Beethoven 5. At the end of 2008, the Australian Government suddenly decided to close the Australian National Academy of Music. In an act of solidarity, musicians from all over the country came together during the final hours of the Academy to give a performance of Beethoven 5. Despite the massive size of the orchestra, we played conductor-less and standing up. It was a performance filled with frustration and anger and the power of those opening bars cutting through the silence was terrifying. It was a performance that showed me that music (and art, in general) is a much bigger force than what any individual can comprehend. The following day, some colleagues and I went to Canberra to meet with Ministers and advisors to the Prime Minister who had been at the performance. That afternoon we were given our Academy back.

The book sitting on my bedside table is ... Einstein’s Violin by 20th century maestro, Joseph Eger. He proposes a really interesting argument that physics behind musical acoustics is capable of promoting social change.