Composer Larry Sitsky made an Officer of the Order of Australia

Composer Larry Sitsky made an Officer of the Order of Australia

Emeritus Professor Larry Sitsky said he didn't know how be came to be made an Officer of the Order of Australia in this year's Australia Day Honours List.

"I'm not bullshitting you, I don't know who nominated me," the composer, pianist and academic said

Emeritus Professor Larry Sitsky.

Emeritus Professor Larry Sitsky.Credit:Jay Cronan

He knew it wasn't the same person who nominated him when he was made a Member of the Order of Australia about 10 or 15 years ago, his old piano tuner: "He's dead, it couldn't have been him."

Professor Sitsky, 82, was honoured "For distinguished service to the arts as a composer and concert pianist, to music education as a researcher and mentor, and through musical contributions to Australia's contemporary culture."


He was born in China after his Russian Jewish family fled their home country after the 1917 revolution and began studying music there as a child. In 1951 when he was 15 his family emigrated to Australia ("the first country that gave us a visa") and he studied piano at the Sydney Conservatorium with Winifred Burston, a student of the Italian musician Ferruccio Busoni. She sent him to study in San Francisco with Egon Petri.

"I had beginner's luck - everything fell into place," he said.

Busoni, he said, was "a Renaissance man - a scholar, a pianist, a composer, a teacher. I'm just a copycat."

He was a founding staff member of the ANU School of Music in 1965 and its head of composition from 1983 to 2005 although he never formally studied composing himself but was self-taught.

It didn't inhibit him: over the decades he wrote hundreds of pieces ranging from operas - The Fall of the House of Usher (1964) was shown on ABC TV - to orchestral works, chamber music and solo piano pieces.

He continued to enjoy teaching.

"It's a fantastic two-way exchange of ideas. If you learn nothing, if you think you know it all, I'd say you're a failure as a teacher."

He remained active in other ways too.

"I'm still performing, still learning new stuff," he said.

"I'm still writing music - I'm in the middle of a big project."

It's a "virtual opera", intended to be shown on a computer screen, that will use the synthesised and sampled sounds of instruments as well as choral and solo voices.


"I'm about one-third of the way through - I'm on page 350 of about 1000 pages. It will be about three hours long," he said.

"Lunacy is part of the package as well."

Ron Cerabona is an arts reporter for The Canberra Times.

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