Brett Dean was a permanent member of the viola section of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra from 1985 until 1999, when he returned to live and work as a composer in his native Australia.
Born in 1961, he studied in Brisbane and graduated as Student of the Year from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music in 1982. For four seasons he occupied the principal's chair of the Queensland and Australian Youth Orchestras, and made many solo appearances as a viola-player around the Asian side of the Pacific Rim - among them, the Chinese premiere of Walton's Viola Concerto in Beijing.
Dean's composing career began in the late 1980s. His first opportunities arose in Australia, where he wrote and improvised scores for the ABC and independent film-makers. Soon he was receiving commissions from Youth Music Australia and for the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, including Ariel's Music (1995) for clarinet and orchestra. By 1996 he was being asked to compose for members and sections of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and since Twelve Angry Men has also produced Three Pieces for the eight horns. More widely in Europe, he has written for both the pianist Imogen Cooper and the Netherlands Dance Theatre
(a score for Jiri Kylian's 1998 three-act ballet One of a Kind), and also created Hundreds and Thousands, a sound installation for Berlin's celebrations of the turn of the millennium.
Carlo (1997), scored for strings, sampler and tape and integrating extracts from a madrigal by Carlo Gesualdo, has been taken up by both the London Sinfonietta and the Berlin Philharmonic (under Sir Simon Rattle) since its premiere by the Australian Chamber Orchestra.
Drama and virtuosity are the prime characteristics of Dean's concise but steadily growing catalogue. At the same time he has continued his solo appearances as a viola-player, particularly on the European contemporary music circuit, where he has given more than 50 premieres, while his recordings range from viola concertos by Hindemith and Benjamin Frankel to string quintets by Bruckner and Brahms with the Brandis Quartet.
He received the 1999 International Rostrum of Composers Award, and his 25-minute orchestral work Beggars and Angels was premiered by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra under Markus Stenz in November before being taken on a European tour at the start of 2000. Game Over, a work written jointly for the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Bang-on-a-Can All-Stars, was played at the Sydney Opera House as part of the city's Olympic Festival in 2000, while Winter Songs, a cycle for the tenor Philip Langridge with the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet, was premiered in 2001.