When it comes to major Australian artists making waves at home and abroad, not too many can compare to Brett Dean. Since leaving his permanent viola position with the Berlin Philharmonic in 2000 to pursue composing, he’s had success after international success. “To be recognised is an honour,” says the composer-violist-conductor on being named Limelight’s 2017 Artist of the Year. “I’m very excited because doing what I do normally doesn’t score highly in terms of popularity. So much of what I do is based around writing ‘weird shit’.”

Brett Dean, Australian Artist of the Year, Limelight, 2017Brett Dean. Photo © Bettina Stoess

Dean’s music might sound weird to some, but it certainly isn’t shit. Not according to his CV, anyway. Dean is accustomed to working with major arts organisations and symphony orchestras around the world, and he boasts an impressive list of accolades, including in 2009, when he won the world’s richest composition prize, the Grawemeyer; the only Australian so far to do so.

Brett Dean’s career shifted yet another gear this year, with the premiere at Glyndebourne last June of his most recent opera, Hamlet. Its phenomenal success caught the composer...