At the age of 23, composer, artistic director and performer Michael Sollis was described as “a prominent figure on Australia’s musical landscape” by the Australian Music Centre. Since then, Michael has continued to stamp his unique influence on the Australian music scene, through daringly original collaborations with scientists, artists and Rugby League clubs to create original works; directing sold-out performances of new music; establishing international collaborations across the world; and inspiring a new generation of students in his home city of Canberra.
Michael is currently director, composer and mandolinist of the Griffyn Ensemble, described by The Australian newspaper as “akin to a religious experience”, and one of Australia’s most innovative chamber music groups. Under Michael’s direction, the Griffyn Ensemble has performed programs which include: Cloudy With a Chance of Rain, part weather forecast and part concert with weatherman Rob Gell; Northern Lights, a new electroacoustic work written by Michael in-residence in the Arctic Circle with pre-eminent Astronomer Fred Watson; and The Dirty Red Digger, comparing stories of Rugby League players during the First World War with stories of Rugby League players today. The Griffyn Ensemble has collaborated with musicians such as China’s pipa superstar Hongyan Zhang to perform Whitlam in China, Swedish ensemble the peärls before swïne experience, and Scottish group the Red Note Ensemble to open the Sound New Music Festival in Aberdeen.
Michael is keenly sought after as a freelance composer: his works have been performed by groups such as the Australian String Quartet, the Australian Voices, and internationally by exhAust and the peärls before swïne experience. Michael has received commissions from organisations such as The Australian Society of Music Educators, Canberra Centenary, the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra International Music Festival and the Australian Embassy of Sweden. He has also written for and conducted many community groups and school ensembles across Australia, and regularly directs the Canberra Mandolin Orchestra. Michael regularly works with non-musical artforms to produce new work – collaborators have included visual artists Jyll Bradley and Annika Romeyn, and dramatist Cathy Petocz.
Michael’s most recent appointment has been with Musica Viva Australia, the world’s largest presenter of chamber music. In early 2016, Michael took the reins as Musica Viva In Schools first ever Artistic Director, Education, which will see him steer the artistic vibrancy of this not-for-profit organisation that has been setting the standard in music education since 1981. Together with Musica Viva, Michael will work to ensure that every Australian child has access to a quality music education.
As an educator, Michael has taught expansively, from classroom early childhood music to tertiary composition at the ANU School of Music. He has also conducted workshops in schools, retirement homes, offices and even prisons in countries as diverse as Australia, Papua New Guinea, Egypt and the United Kingdom. Over an eight-year period, Michael developed innovative workshops for over 400 students annually at Canberra’s Young Music Society, bringing the world’s leading musician-educators to Australia from countries such as Poland, the Netherlands and from across Australia.
Between 2005 and 2007, Michael founded and directed the SoundACT program, which saw over 1000 school students from Canberra perform and compose new works. This activity, along with the development of the Griffyn Mentoring Ensemble, was shortlisted for the 2008 Australian Classical Music Awards for Services to Education. Michael has been chair of the Australian Youth Music Council, and was the founding chair of IMC Youth – the youth component of the International Music Council. Michael has made presentations on youth musical advocacy in China, Estonia, Turkey and across Australia. In 2013, Michael was a finalist for the ACT Young Australian of the Year.
Michael’s passion for music is only matched by his passion for Rugby League, having played 100 first grade games for the Gungahlin Bulls in the Canberra Raiders Cup, and he continues to work to promote exchange between sporting and arts communities. Michael is also a noted researcher within the interdisciplinary fields of anthropology-composition-linguistics. His work on sung stories in the Papua New Guinea highlands has been published by ANU E-Press and the Australian Journal of Linguistics. He received the University Medal from the Australian National University for this work, which also influenced the acclaimed Griffyn Ensemble performance Island Universes? – Australian classical music inspired by Melanesia held at the National Gallery of Australia in 2008.