by Philip Cooney

Nigel Westlake is an Australian composer whose music is known and loved by audiences all over the world. He is the composer of music for feature films such as Babe, Babe-Pig in the City, The Nugget, A Little Bit of Soul, Children of the Revolution, and Imax classics such as Antarctica, The Edge and Solarmax. Several of his compositions were incorporated in feature international T.V. broadcasts during the Sydney Olympics 2000. However his music encompasses a wide range of genres, including theatre, and the major part of his composing output has been concert hall works for soloist, chamber ensembles and orchestra.

He has received numerous awards for his compositions including the Gold Medal at the New York International Radio Festival, several APRA and Screen Composer Guild awards for his concert and film music, including the 2005 APRA-AMC Classical Music Award for Best Instrumental Work for Six Fish, composed for the guitar ensemble Saffire. In 2004, Westlake was awarded the prestigious HC Coombs Creative Arts Fellowship by The Australian National University.

Performer and Composer

Like his contemporaries, Carl Vine, Elena Kats-Chernin and Brett Dean, Westlake began his professional musical life as an accomplished performer. The son of professional musicians, he left school at the end of Year 10 to pursue a musical career, working freelance with orchestras and ensembles. In 1975, at the age of 17, he made his first professional recording with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, playing bass clarinet in Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. He premiered many of his own compositions as soloist or as a member of groups such as the Magic Puddin’ Band (in the early 1980s), the Australia Ensemble (from 1986 until 1992), and Attacca, with John Williams (in the early 1990s). Westlake said at the time, “I’m a performer/composer, in that all my ideas are taken from my experience as a performer, and the reason that I write music is to perform it.”(1)

Westlake says that composing “infiltrated” his life over a very long period of time, and that composition feels like a natural evolution or expansion of his playing career. Indeed it was while studying the clarinet with his father that Westlake first began to write what he calls “strange concoctions” and ideas that he would try out with his friends. This eventually led to him forming the Magic Puddin’ Band, which played a fusion of classical, jazz, rock and ethnic music; and subsequently a period as composer and performer with the Flying Fruit Fly Circus. The impetus to write came from a desire to imbue his performances of the clarinet repertoire that he was learning with a deeper meaning. Composing his own music was a way of entering “the mind of the composer”. One aspect of this search for a deeper meaning was to bring to the music an individual statement, unique interpretation, insight or depth of understanding as a performer. Once he started experimenting he found himself open to a wide range of music, and listening in a completely different way. Speaking in 1997, Westlake said that, “These experiences in all my formative years all play a role in my musical identity and in some ways, I believe my ambition to compose is an attempt to recapture the magic of those very first encounters in music.” (2)

Westlake undertook formal composition studies at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School under William Motzing, then in Holland with Theo Leovendie whilst studying bass clarinet performance with Harry Sparnaay. He was awarded an Australia Council grant to study orchestration, which he completed in 1993, with Richard Meale and Richard Mills, with whom he also studied conducting

Feeling that the commitment to remain a solo performer could not be managed together with the time needed for composition, Westlake gave up performing in the early 1990s and composed full-time instead, including the movie score for Babe and a Bass Clarinet Concerto that was commissioned by the Adelaide Chamber Orchestra. Part of that commission was that he would be soloist for the concerto and so, after not having played for a couple of years, he spent some months in preparation, as he says “getting my chops back”, before traveling to Adelaide for the premiere. He later performed the concerto with various other orchestras and recorded it for ABC Classics. These were his last concert performances as a soloist. In 1997 Westlake made his conducting debut was with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, and he has since conducted film scoring sessions and performances in all the east coast capital cities.

Even though playing the clarinet was the way Westlake began writing music, he says that young composers must move beyond their own instrument if they are to develop their writing skill. This is part of the process of listening and thinking in a new way.

Composing must encompass a much broader perspective and you must try to think like a percussionist or a pianist in order to write for these instruments. One way to achieve this is to study the music of the particular instrument for which you are writing. When I embark upon a new guitar piece (I don’t play guitar at all and find it the most difficult instrument to write for), I usually spend some time going through guitar scores and listening to my favourite guitar composers. Also talking to instrumentalists about certain pieces and technical issues [such as the practicalities of the percussion layout and sticking and mallet issues in the new Percussion Concerto] is incredibly informative.

Study the music that attracts you. Studying the work of other composers is common practice among all composers. If you are writing a string quartet (or whatever), listen to as many different string quartet pieces as you can find. Listen out for something that attracts you to the work of a particular composer or a certain piece. Get the score of that piece and find out what makes it tick. What is it about that particular piece that awakens something within you? Incorporate some of those ideas into your own work.

The Composition Process

Westlake composes in a converted garage, which is set up with a computer-based recording studio and film edit suite. While electronic music was an early influence, and was a medium incorporated very effectively in earlier pieces such as Onomatopoeia (1984) and Entomology (1990), this equipment now serves as a tool for creating demonstration recordings of ideas for acoustic ensembles, as well as scoring completed pieces.

Westlake says that, “the creative process is a mystery I don’t really understand. I might embark on a new work armed with two basic concepts – the germ of an idea and an overview of the shape and from of the final work. By constantly asking myself what needs to occur to my basic idea in order to germinate and transform it into the finished work, I subject it to a series of rigorous processes and refinements.” (3) One reason for Westlake’s description of the creative process as “mysterious” is the period, following a car accident in 1993, when he found himself unable to write. He describes this time as “shocking and dark”, and it gave him a new appreciation of the precious and indefinable nature of the creative spark. The aptly named piece, Out of the Blue (1993), was his first composition to follow.

The combination of inspiration and perspiration that is the experience of composers has its own rewards for Westlake. “Composing, whilst in some cases is such a rewarding experience, but … also very painful and I think I’m not the only composer who feels that, I think that that’s pretty common. I’ve set that goal for myself because I know that I’d probably be bored otherwise if I didn’t aspire to do something that was creative and I thought was contributing something to the world.” The composer says that these goals lead to a constant questioning as to the purpose and value of his music and an avoidance of a safe formula or set process in writing. “I try to re-invent the wheel at every opportunity and that’s painful but when it works it’s also incredibly rewarding.”(4)

This reinvention, and the eclectic nature of Westlake’s compositions, which reflect the broad range of his experience as a performer and composer, will be discussed later. However, it is important to emphasise that this does mean that his music is derivative. Westlake says, “originality and clarity are the qualities I most admire in composition”.(5) While writing for film often requires adherence to recognised musical conventions, using a language that is easily understood by the audience, there is also room for innovation in the way diverse elements and styles are combined. This offers a composer the opportunity to contribute to the evolving syntax of the cinematic language. Westlake’s concert music demonstrates a similar balance between an awareness of the diverse elements that make up the musical landscape and language of the Twenty-first Century, and the desire to contribute to the evolution of that language. Westlake is not yet sure of the exact nature of his original contribution, recognising that the development of an individual “voice” takes a long period of time. However, this remains a primary goal, and the current lull in the Australian film industry has given Westlake the opportunity to concentrate his energies on concert commissions and reflect on the nature of his compositional voice. This was also assisted by his period at ANU as the Harold Coombes Creative Arts Fellow, during which time Westlake wrote a second piano sonata for Michael Kieran Harvey, and Kalabash for the ANU percussion ensemble, “Drumatix”. During that year he also had the opportunity to do two major revisions of existing works, the Piano Concerto (originally written for Michael Kieran Harvey and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 2000) and Shadow Dances (a concerto for guitar and chamber orchestra – originally written for Timothy Kain also in 2000). He also arranged a thirty-minute orchestral concert suite of his film music called Moving Pictures.

Westlake places great importance on music that speaks; that addresses the heart; music that is honest. He wants to speak to the audience, but rather than being populist or writing to a commercial formula, Westlake chooses to use his own aesthetic values to guide his writing. While growing up he remembers vividly an occasion when his mother told him “Music must always be beautiful”. In an interview with ABC Radio’s Peter Thompson, Westlake adds this about the communication between composer, performer and audience:

It’s being able to realise things that are in your head that no-one can hear and bring them out into the world; and for them to be appreciated is a wonderful feeling. When you feel that a performer has communicated the original intentions of the work in a clear fashion that has been understood by an audience, that is a very wonderful feeling. It doesn’t always happen that way, but when it does nothing beats it. For me it’s creating your own sacred environment. You’re surrounding yourself with this chasm of beauty and creativity. I can’t imagine life without it. (6)

Westlake is on record as saying that he likes to visualise the performers for whom he is writing, on the stage, ready to perform. “Then [he says], if he listens carefully to his imagination, he can even hear the performers playing parts of the work he is about to write for them.”(7) The personality, or rather the musical aesthetics and technical abilities of the performers, also contribute to the quality of the music he is writing for them. Thus, the piano music written for Michael Kieran Harvey is rhythmic and powerful, while the guitar music written for John Williams is lyrical and warm. However, Westlake says that this is more of a subliminal process, rather than a conscious attempt to draw on specific aspects of the performer’s personalities to include in the piece.

In the case of Rebecca Lagos, for whom Westlake is writing a new percussion concerto, the composer says that what strikes him is her ‘cool as a cucumber’, unflustered approach to playing. “Whether she’s playing a single triangle note or some fiendish Messiaen xylophone lick, she appears to be completely unfazed and so relaxed – yet the sound she’s producing is extraordinarily vital, focussed and precise. Her mallet playing is extremely well developed, technically, and her ability to play really fast accurate passages is something that I will be exploiting to its fullest potential.” The writing process will continue for many months yet, and as composer and performer get further into the piece, Westlake says there may be specific aspects of the concerto upon which she has unwittingly had an influence.

I’m trying to write a piece that Rebecca will find rewarding to play on a technical and musical level. As I feed her bits and pieces of score, her feedback will inevitably shape the piece to some extent. For instance, if she’s particularly excited about a certain musical phrase or gesture, then I might be encouraged to extend that idea or develop it further.
Film Music

One important difference for Westlake between film music and concert music, which makes up the larger part of his output, is that the latter is often produced in isolation; an experience that he describes as “very challenging”. Film making, on the other hand, is a collaborative process. Film, by nature, is a director’s medium. Directors, Westlake says, “are, by their very essence, quite fascinating people and they’re very inquisitive, they’re knowledgeable, they have great depth of understanding of human nature. And so it’s great to hang around them, and it makes a great contrast to spending all day in a room on your own.”(8)

Film music requires composers to create music cues that embrace a wide range of musical styles, often within the same film, and even within the same scene. The cues, whether used alone or in a collage, are often motivic. They must be able to suggest a mood, emotion or setting in a very short space of time, evoking a response of both recognition and relationship between the audience and the film’s setting, plot and characters. Westlake has demonstrated an effective and celebrated ability to create original music and adapt musical ideas to both express the director’s concept and enhance the audience’s viewing experience.

He understands the power of musical suggestion, whether the sprightly, but craggy bassoon theme for Farmer Hoggett in Babe, or the hint of uilleann pipes or pan pipes which transport the viewer across the world in the Imax film, Solarmax. In The Celluloid Heroes, which is a four-hour film about the history of Australian cinema, the music depicts the courage, adventure and romance of this journey, covering every mood and genre and capturing both action and tender emotion in a seamless tapestry.

Similarly, the music for Antarctica (1992), another Imax film, has an epic character, combining a yearning lyricism (Threnody), with a real sense of nature’s power (Canyons of Ice), leavened at times with comic writing (Penguin Circus). Westlake employs a variety of well-chosen instrumental and vocal tone colours. From the chorus and orchestra in Canyons of Ice, to the wordless soprano, alto and chorus in Meltponds/Dry Valleys/The Ice Core, and the very playful character of the percussion in Penguin Circus. At the Pole is, predictably, a triumphant, percussive fanfare-like piece.

Westlake describes his film music as having “a life of its own” (9) While powerful when combined with the film vision, the music is just as evocative in orchestral performance, in individual pieces such as the Threnody for Cello and Orchestra, or in the Antarctica, Suite for Guitar and Orchestra (1992), written for John Williams.

Concert Music

Film music is applied music. Virtually every note becomes part of a score for a specific reason, in support of the drama and subtext of the images. Concert hall music can be drawn from film music, theatre music, or follow some form of program. More commonly, it is a pure, or self-referencing art form. Westlake says that when writing concert music:

I hardly ever draw inspiration from visual references, so in a sense, a listener who perceives this in my music is simply using the sound to trigger a visual response from their own imagination. ‘Music is powerless to express anything other than itself’, a famous Stravinsky quote, has some relevance in relation to my point here. To me composition is about how notes work together and the building of resonances, melodic contours and rhythmic impetus to create sonic constructions that I find aesthetically pleasing. I don’t consciously use visual references as inspiration, although after a piece is written, the sounds might remind me of a certain place or event and a title might come to mind.

Examples where the music may recall for the composer a memory of places or events, include pieces such as Silence and Moonlight, which reflects a dramatic event from the composer’s teenage years, and Our Mum Was a Waterfall (1985), which is described as “an evocation of a childhood spent in the Australian bush.”(10) The composer says, “I think you pack those life experiences away into your sub-conscious and you’re always drawing upon them. They are the food of composition for me, those types of experiences and even though you’re not consciously re-creating them, the intensity of those types of occurrences [is] the stuff that drives you to do what you do.”(11)

However, despite his insistence that his concert music is not programmatic or necessarily inspired by external stimuli, listeners do perceive descriptive elements in pieces such as the award-winning Six Fish Suite (2004), written for the Australian Guitar Ensemble, Saffire. A review in Melbourne’s Age Newspaper included references to arpeggios being used to suggest the movement of fish through the ocean, drifting and darting in the ocean current, and a dobro contributing a plaintive whale call. Another review, in Brisbane’s Courier-Mail refers to the writing in the Piano Trio as evoking “ the desolation of deserts, Australian sun burning the earth, the same earth springing to life after rain”. The reviewer goes adds that, “ You could glimpse shafts of light penetrating tropical forests, hear Clancy [of the Overflow] and horses hoofs thundering around alpine ridges, and catch an urban commotion in its urgent drive”. Refractions at Summer Cloud Bay (1989), captures the image of light and water; the atmosphere is generally holiday-like in its joyful, jumpy motives and melodies. The opening of Shimmering Blue (2003) is another fine example of descriptive writing, suggesting the shimmering of the ocean.

However, as with the other examples, Westlake’s writing in Shimmering Blue is not about mere description. His music takes his audience from the surface imagery, to a deeper response and exploration of the theme. The power, danger and vastness of the ocean are all considered, and even beyond that, further levels of meaning are opened up for the listener within the music. There are watery passages in Between Silence and Moonlight, and though the music is full of drama, it is also imbued with a sense of optimism and awakening that creates a human perspective in the piece. Westlake believes that the intentions of a composer should be immediately obvious to the listener. The evocative titles, added after the composition is completed, can provide a trigger for the audience’s imagination, and serve as a pathway into the sound world for them.(13)

There have been some attempts to label Westlake’s music. Like many contemporary Australian composers such as Martin Wesley-Smith, Graeme Koehne and Matthew Hindson, his music is an eclectic mix of influences from both art music and popular music. It resonates with classical, jazz and rock influences. The fast movements of Piano Sonata No. 1 (1998) are based on rock-and-funk-inspired rhythms, combined with strong dissonances not readily associated with popular music. However, it needs to be said that, accessible as many find Westlake’s music, the orchestral pieces make no compromise for any sense of popular taste. While the rhythmic exuberance and energy is comparable to popular genres, the melodic and harmonic language is influenced by many of the significant orchestral composers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Many of the tone colours and techniques Westlake uses are derived from the avant-garde of the Twentieth-century, including a range of string techniques, and wind techniques such as multiphonics and vocalised harmonic glissandos. Others are from the vocabulary of Jazz, and some from the film composer’s palette.

The rhythmic energy of the music is often paired with angular, sometimes chromatic melodies, or an insistent repetition of motives that can be relentless at times. In many pieces the structure does not revolve around a single climax point. A more even, continuous texture is more often employed, with parallel presentations of melodic material (at varying pitch intervals) against the ostinato figures. In the earlier works, the moments of dynamic and textural contrast frequently serve as only brief resting points before the music takes off again. In most pieces, there is barely a bar that does not have employ syncopation, cross rhythm or some other form of rhythmic interest. The longer and slower melodies are often accompanied by a faster accompanying figures or ostinatos. The rhythmic liveliness and strength of the Stravinsky tradition is evident in many pieces, and Westlake acknowledges the influence that playing in The Rite of Spring had all those years ago.

Like Stravinsky, Westlake’s harmonies are often dissonant, but with a recognizable tonal centre, and they eschew a sense of resolution. However, they also demonstrate other influences. The extended use of tonal centres, which some describe as “unadventurous”, combined with such rhythmic complexity, are characteristic of Fusion Jazz. The slow rate of harmonic change in some works can be deceptive. Although one chord may be held, one or more of the tones are often varied, creating interesting harmonic colours. Most of the harmonies employ extended chords with 2nds, 9ths, 11ths and 13ths; altered chords with augmented intervals, as well as 7ths and major 7ths (the “parallel” writing between Piccolo and Bass Clarinet in the third movement of Refractions at Summer Cloud Bay, is an example of these last two intervals). These may also be considered as derived from Jazz, but they were originally the language of Debussy, Ravel and many following Twentieth-Century composers. Westlake combines elements of both Jazz and Impressionism in the third movement of his Bass Clarinet Concerto, and the opening of both the Piano Concerto (2004) and the Piano Trio (2004) is Impressionistic in colour. The musical ambiguity and freedom that Debussy, and later the exponents of Bebop found in this vocabulary, is also enjoyed and used to great effect in Westlake’s music.

The motivic nature of much of Westlake’s concert music, where short melodic ideas are subject to repetition and slight variation, as well as the use of ostinato, may derive originally from the influence of Rock music and even African and Indian music, (as the composer suggests), and possibly the nature of film music. However, it is also a characteristic of many contemporary orchestral music works. These motives are often shared between instruments and sections in a type of call and response. Sometimes a dialogue or alternation between two different motives is used. At other times imitation and contrapuntal writing between instruments is alternated with the parallel presentation of melodic material referred to above.

As mentioned earlier, it is easy to suggest particular influences on Westlake’s music. Influences ranging from the dissonant pounding of Stravinsky, or the syncopated melodic clarity of Copland, to the static harmonic richness of Tippett; the beauty of Debussy’s harmonies, the colour and complexity of Messiaen, and the melodic inventiveness of Prokofiev. Some have sought, incorrectly, to compare Westlake’s music with Minimalist composers such as Steve Reich. There are even glimpses of Sculthorpe and Edwards in some passages. However, while the composer himself recognises such influences, it is more correct to see these examples as Westlake employing a now-established musical language and tradition, rather than borrowing from the sound world of these other composers. It is in the thoughts, images and attitudes that he expresses with this language, that Westlake’s original musical contribution lies.

It is also worth adding that an arbitrary distinction should not be drawn between Westlake’s film and concert hall music. While often marginalised during the Twentieth-century as a cul-de-sac of Romanticism, film music doesn’t only rely on soaring melodies and lush harmonies. Composers such as Bernard Hermann, and later, Jerry Goldsmith employed avant-garde techniques of their times in many of their landmark scores. David Raksin and Henry Mancini were among many composers who brought an intimate knowledge and love of Jazz to their film writing. Westlake, following in this tradition, is able to employ a richly detailed knowledge and experience of many musical styles to all his writing for film and concert hall. His writing for particular instruments or instrumental combinations is often idiomatic. Westlake is commanding in his ability to employ the particular strengths and colours of the orchestra. However, the immediacy and impact of the variety of colours and effects he achieves, often belies the detailed scoring the composer uses in all of his writing.

While well-known for his use of lively rhythms and bright tone colours, Westlake is not adverse to using long, lyrical melodic lines, beautiful sonorities and translucent textures. The muscular strength and force of much of the writing is balanced by delicate moments. While in pieces such as the Piano Trio and Kalabash the composer will surprise the audience with a quiet ending. Westlake has also demonstrated the ability to create and sustain an ethereal sense of stillness, when desired, as in the second movement of the Piano Trio. The melodies often have an improvised character, gradually evolving from the initial impetus, which may be a single pitch or interval. This is especially evident in the reflective movements and sections of works such as the fourth movement of Refractions at Summer Bay (1989); the third movement of Invocations (1995), the concerto for bass clarinet and orchestra; the central section of Out of the Blue (1993); the Guitar Concerto, Shadow Dances (2004); and the previously mentioned second movement of the Piano Trio (2004). Rather than a predictable use of internal repetition and contrast, the melodies move to new or similar ideas from which the larger structure is built. In some pieces the melody is constructed from a variety of these shorter, complementing phrases, much in the manner of Stravinsky.

Westlake recognises the value of structure in concert pieces, a point of distinction between film and concert music. In film music, the musical structure follows the narrative and sequence of images, determined by collaboration between director, music editor and composer. In concert music, the structure is determined solely by the composer. The structure is important, as it provides the framework and points of reference that can guide the audience. In modern music, these are not always as overt as the formal structures of earlier periods and may, as in the case of Westlake, be derived in an intuitive way. The return of the morse code like opening theme throughout Between Silence and Moonlight is an interesting example. It serves structurally both as a unifying element, and by contributing variety in the different character it takes on at each appearance. In other works whole sections or melodies are repeated, either as a recognised recapitulation, or in a varied form, using different tone colours, slightly-altered rhythms and intervals, counter-melody and harmonic variation. In the “Wooden Ships” movement of Antarctica, the whole melody is repeated in this way. In Shimmering Blue, there is obvious recapitulation and variation of sections, while in the percussion quartet, Kalabash, the composer treats shorter melodic ideas in a variety of these ways throughout the piece.

Australian Music

Westlake says that, even though people say that they can hear the sounds of the Australian landscape in his music, there is no conscious attempt by him to sound Australian.

There is no doubt that living and working in Australia has had a profound effect on my approach to composition but this influence is operating on a subliminal level. I hardly ever embark on a composition with the intention to portray or embrace sentiments that are in some way related to an “Australian” emotional or physical landscape. The notes always come first. In some instances a title might present itself at the conclusion of the writing process that may be “Australian” in one way or another, but the way the notes fit together remains my primary concern throughout the writing process

He admires the work of older composers such as Peter Sculthorpe and Ross Edwards in their ability to imbue their music with a sense of place, that distinguishes it as Australian. Like Edwards, Westlake was influenced by the spatial relationships, timbres, cross rhythms, metric modulations and polyrhythms in the sounds of the bush he would hear when he was living on the edge of Dharug National Park north of Sydney. The sound of the bush has been incorporated into Entomology (1990), where samples of various insects and other sounds of rural life, form ostinatos for the acoustic instrumental parts. However, a stronger link with Sculthorpe and Edwards, and one that Westlake also shares with other composers of his own generation, is a strong sense of optimism and celebration in their music that distinguishes it from their European counterparts.

The Percussion Concerto

The working title for this new piece is “Big Bang Theory” (Concerto for Percussionist and Symphony Orchestra.). Westlake says that this is a very “tongue in cheek” nod to the Belgian priest Georges Lemaître, who was the first to propose that the universe began with the explosion of a primeval atom, “although the literal meaning of the title in this context is probably more relevant – i.e. the business of actually hitting stuff to make sound”.

This work is a development and further exploration of the composer’s long association with Australia’s percussion community that began some twenty-five years ago. This long and fruitful relationship has led to numerous collaborations, commissions and the creation of percussion-orientated film scores with many of Australia’s finest players and ensembles. Westlake says, “Although we’ve worked together in the past with Synergy, this is the first time Rebecca and I have collaborated so closely on a piece together. I sense that she’s really excited about the piece, which is a best-case scenario for a composer and which I find very encouraging.”

Westlake describes the kernel of the music thus:

From blistering xylophone virtuosity to the meditative sustain of Japanese temple bowls, the soloist revolves around several percussion “kits” featuring dozens of percussion instruments (wooden, metal and skin) in an engaging dialogue with orchestra that is at times driven by a pulsating rhythmic impetus, counter balanced by moments of reflection and introspective contemplation.

Westlake says that he hopes “to retain and develop any sense of fun, energy and colour that may have been present in earlier works such as Clowning, Penguin Circus, and even Malachite Glass”, adding:

To me percussion music has a great sense of theatre and celebration and so far the material I’m working with certainly embraces some of the elements [of these earlier pieces]. Listening to the percussion music of Messiaen and James Macmillan (his percussion concerto “Veni Veni Emmanuel”), I have become aware of the ability to embrace more profound sentiments as well using percussion. As I get into the piece I am attempting to cover as much ground as I can, emotionally and technically. Of course in this process many ideas don’t cut the mustard and fall by the wayside, so it’s difficult to say at this stage just exactly how it will end up.


Nigel Westlake began composing as a way to better understand and express the meaning of music. By speaking in a language that is direct, yet rich and beautiful, Westlake invites both performer and audience to share that understanding. His music has an integrity that encompasses a range of emotions, and imbues them with an over-arching sense of wit and optimism. It draws on a wide musical heritage, employing those elements that have significance and attraction for the composer and combining these in a vibrant and colourful language. With this Westlake is able to create and craft compositions that entertain and enrich, challenge and inspire, whatever the genre.

1. Interview with Bill Mackay for Sounds Australian, Spring 1989

2. Interview, 4MBS May 1997

3. Jillian Graham, Collaboration in Creation – An Interview with Nigel Westlake, nd

4. The Wisdom Interviews: Nigel Westlake and Peter Thompson. Sunday 11 August 2002,

5. Jillian Graham, Collaboration in Creation – An Interview with Nigel Westlake, nd

6.The Wisdom Interviews: Nigel Westlake and Peter Thompson. Sunday 11 August 2002,

7. Katarina Kroslakova

8. Andrew Ford on The Music Show ABC Classic FM

9. CD liner notes for Antarctica, Tall Poppies TP012, 1992

10. Nigel Westlake, CD Notes for Onomatopoeia, Tall Poppies TP047, 1994

11. The Wisdom Interviews: Nigel Westlake and Peter Thompson. Sunday 11 August 2002,

12. These and other reviews may be found on Westlake’s website,

13. Nigel Westlake, Introduction to Between Silence and Moonlight, Sydney Symphony Australian Composition Resource Kit, 2000

All other quotes are from responses kindly prepared especially for the 2006 Sydney Symphony Education Program. The full transcript of these comments may be found at