Nick Russoniello could win $15,000 to further his craft overseas. Picture: ORLANDO CHIODONick Russoniello doesn’t like to blow his own horn, but when it comes to playing the saxophone the Wollongong-born musician has been labelled a genius.

The 28-year-old is one of two finalists in this year’s Freedman Fellowship for Classical Music, a respected industry prize dubbed the “Genius Award”.

Candidates are nominated by Australia’s leading musicians and academics.

“Genius is a new one for me, but I’ll take it because no-one has ever called me that before and it probably won’t happen again,” said Russoniello, who started his career at Wollongong Conservatorium of Music.

“It’s a huge privilege to be nominated, but I was quite shocked.”

Despite his humility, it is not the first time he has been recognised as one of Australia’s top young musicians.

Last year he became the second saxophonist in 67 years to win the ABC’s Young Performer of the Year award, receiving a cash prize of $20,000 and the chance to play as a soloist in front of 50,000 people at this year’s Symphony in the Domain.

He attributes part of his success to playing classical music instead of the more conventional styles for which his instrument is known.

If he wins the Freedman Fellowship on September 18, Russoniello will be given $15,000 to further his craft overseas.

He plans to do a three-month tour of the United Kingdom and United States to perform at festivals and present academic talks on emerging Australian classical music.

“I’ve got a whole bunch of works by new Australian composers … so I’ll be able to build up my own network and bring that experience back to Australia, where I will do a series of chamber music concerts in Sydney,” he said.

“Ultimately I want to be able to come home with lots of new ideas and develop them further.”

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