Composer, producer, multi-instrumentalist, and vocalist, William Barton is widely recognized as one of Australia’s leading didgeridoo players and composers.
For two decades, William has forged a peerless profile as a performer and composer in the classical musical world, from the Philharmonic Orchestras of London and Berlin to historic events at Westminster Abbey and the Beijing Olympics. With his prodigious musicality and the quiet conviction of his Kalkadunga heritage, he has vastly expanded the horizons of the didgeridoo — and the culture and landscape that it represents.
William grew up on a cattle station just outside Mt Isa in northwest Queensland, and began learning the didgeridoo at age of seven from his uncle, an elder of the Wannyi, Lardil, and Kalkadunga people.
William says, “What I remember so clearly from my uncle is him telling me that the didgeridoo is a language. It’s a speaking language and like any language, it’s something that you’ve got to learn over many months, and many years. It’s got to be a part of you, and what you do.”
At 17, William realized a lifelong dream when he was invited to perform with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. But the full, rapturous embrace of the classical music world came in 2004, when Tasmanian composer Peter Sculthorpe unveiled his Requiem with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and William was the guest soloist.
That night, William was invited to join the orchestra in Japan, to perform Sculthorpe compositions Earth Cry and Mangrove. Tours to the USA and New Zealand followed, and the composer and didgeridoo artist cemented a firm creative partnership. "William offered me a new direction," the late composer said, praising his instinctive musicality and skill as an improviser.
William was soon performing on classical stages from the Vatican to the royal court of Spain. Despite a bare minimum of formal musical education, William won an ARIA Award for his classical album Kalkadungu, composed a world premiere work for members of the Berlin Philharmonic at Sydney Opera House, and unveiled his first string quartet, Birdsong at Dusk. In a prestigious event broadcast live on BBC One, he premiered his composition Kalkadungu’s Journey at Westminster Abbey for Her Majesty The Queen at the Commonwealth Service to commemorate Commonwealth Day 2019.
Today, William holds honorary doctorate degrees from the Universities of Griffith and Sydney, has released five albums on the ABC Classics label, and is an Artist in Residence at Melbourne Recital Centre.
William says, “I’m doing what I love. I want to take the oldest culture in the world and blend it with Europe’s rich musical legacy. I guess what I’m doing is giving back: giving back to my culture and my people because I was given something when I was very young and like the old fellas who taught me years ago, I’m just passing it on.”
To learn more about William, visit his website.