Christopher Sainsbury
Composer - Songwriter - Guitarist - Educator


Christopher Sainsbury - composer - songwriter - guitarist - educator

As a composer Christopher Sainsbury explores many inspirations and expressions, and he is passionately interested in the interpretation of his home region of the Central Coast of NSW and Sydney through works. He is of mixed heritage including Irish, English, Dutch and Aboriginal, and this focus on local region stems in part from his Indigenous heritage - being a member of the Dharug peoples of Sydney and surrounds (also commonly known as Eora). Pertaining to Regionalism in music composition, this is when one draws upon motives and images from their local region and reconstitutes them in new ways through creative works that in turn fortify a sense of regional identity. It's 'stuff' is largely to do with the natural and cultural geography of a region. Working as a regionalist composer has resulted in many works, from First Light (Winner of the 2010-11 New England Philharmonic Orchestra Open Call for Scores), and most recently the commissioned piece Singing Stone for Ensemble Three - Joel Brennan, Don Immel and Ken Murray (Faculty of the Melbourne Conservatorium trio).

Sainsbury is Associate Professor in Composition at the Australian National University (ANU). Previously he was Head of Department in Aboriginal Visual and Performing Arts at the Eora Centre, an Indigenous Tertiary College in Sydney for 23 years, and an extension of that work is now via the Ngarra-burria First Peoples Composers program. He also plays a part as a composer mentor for young Australian composers with Artology.

Sainsbury maintains a commitment to lifting the profile of Indigenous Australian composers, and he is founder and director of the Ngarra-burria First Peoples Composers program, a program for the creative and professional development of Indigenous Australian composers. In 2020 he won an Australian music leadership award – the inaugural APRA National Luminary Award – in acknowledgement of his work in the profiling of First Nations composers and effecting a much-needed change in the landscape of the classical and new music industries in Australia, namely establishing the commissioning and programming of First Nations composers. In 2022 the program received international industry endorsement at the Classical:NEXT conference (the largest industry gathering of classical and new music professionals in the world) where it won the Classical:NEXT Innovation Award. See Ngarra-burria page in link above.


Past commissions include from Carl Pini and the Australian Chamber Orchestra/ACO (1987), from Australian flute elder Gordon Yemm (1987), from Michael Hannan and the Newcastle Bicentennial Authority (1988), from theatre director Noel Tovey for the play Aboriginal Protestors for the Sydney Festival (1994), a Guitar Concerto for Spanish virtuoso Jose Maria Gallardo del Rey which featured at the Darwin International Guitar Festival (2002), and a work for Netherlands virtuosi Erik Bosgraaf (bass recorder) and Izhar Elias (guitar) which featured in their Australian tour of 2004. More recent commissions are from Roland Peelman for the Canberra International Music Festival (2019 and 2021), from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (2019), from Richard Mills and the Victorian Opera (2021 for 2023 season), from Australian Voices (2021), from Melbourne String Ensemble (2021), from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra Australian Series (2022), from the CSO (2023), from the University of British Columbia's Future Minerals Working Group for the Axiom Brass Quintet (Chicago), from Bel A Cappella Sydney, and a series of student flute works from Allegro Publishing. For more see Find Scores page.

A selection of other compositions include for Levande Musik (Sweden), cor anglais player Rachel Tolmie and the Central Coast Concertante Ensemble (cond. Chris Bearman), Royal Australian Navy Band, guitar virtuoso Ken Murray, the Central Coast Philharmonia, the Central Coast Symphony Orchestra, Evlana Ensemble Ireland, the World Expo Brisbane 1988, clarinettist Shawn Earle, Bouddi Voice Choir, Griffyn Ensemble ACT, Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Richard Mills, The Promise Choir, Aboriginal Sydney’s inaugural Koorabaret in 1992, Italian virtuoso guitarist Gian Marco Ciampa, Mark Xiao and the Australian Flute Festival, the Australian Double Reed Society, German recorder player Sylvia Hinz, Yale Concert Band, NSSWE cond. Patrick Brennan, virtuoso pianist Edward Neeman, former Greens Senator Bob Brown, TSO clarinettist Eloise Fisher, Primal Dance Company for the Sydney Fringe Festival, Derwent Valley Concert Band, guitar virtuosi Andrew Blanch and Vlad Gorbach, Queensland Youth Orchestra, Tasmanian Youth Orchestra, New England Philharmonic Orchestra Boston, Royal Airforce Band Australia, and many more. Some of this goes back into the mid 1980s.

In many of Sainsbury’s works one may expect to hear the guitar, his main instrument. As a guitarist he has played in all the south-Eastern states at various clubs, pubs, cafes, surf clubs and festivals going back to 1979. His solo guitar album Anima seems to be a favourite for many guitarists.

Scores and recordings of his works are available from the Australian Music Centre and this website.