Rafael Karlen is an award-winning saxophonist, composer and arranger and enjoys creating music for a variety of ensembles across a broad range of styles. Since releasing his debut album in 2008, Rafael has continued to build a reputation as one of the more creative, exciting and surprising musicians on the Australian music scene. Rafael’s music has been performed by small jazz groups, rock and pop ensembles, big bands through to chamber orchestras and string quartets. He has performed throughout Australia and New Zealand, and in Canada, Cambodia, England, Scotland and Sweden.
Following the release of Rafael’s first album, which boasted his music for a 10-piece jazz ensemble, Rafael has released subsequent albums consisting of his music for string quartet with improvising pianist and saxophonist, intimate jazz trio, and will soon release his fourth album as a leader in 2022. His upcoming release will showcase his new Quintet featuring acclaimed musicians Kristin Berardi, Matt McMahon, Brett Hirst and Simon Barker. Rafael is also part of the Berardi/Foran/Karlen Trio with Kristin Berardi and Sean Foran and released their second album in 2019 with special guest vibraphone player Pascal Schumacher from Luxembourg. In early 2022, he premiered and recorded his new 60-minute work Sinking Cities for string orchestra, choir, and saxophone featuring Camerata-Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra and The Australian Voices. He will also record a new trio album in early 2022 after being awarded an ABC Jazz Commission
Rafael has received many awards and accolades. In 2015 he was awarded a renowned Winston Churchill Fellowship to travel to USA, England, Denmark, Norway, Germany and Holland to visit many of the world’s leading contemporary composers/arrangers, performers and ensembles. He was nominated for an ARIA with Kristin Berardi and Sean Foran for their album Haven. Rafael was awarded the prestigious Prelude Residency and was the 2018 Composer in Residence at the Peggy Glanville-Hicks House in Sydney which allowed him to focus on producing new work over the course of 12 months. Other awards and nominations include finalist in the Australian Jazz Bell Awards for Young Australian Jazz Artist of the Year and Jazz Composition of the year, several nominations for the Freedman Fellowship, and an Australian Art Music Award for Excellence in Jazz with the Berardi/Foran/Karlen Trio.
In addition to leading his own groups, as a performer, Rafael has worked with Soul, Jazz, Pop, Folk and Classical artists including Renee Geyer, Ed Kuepper, Paul Mac, Andrea Keller, James Morrison, Megan Washington, Archie Roach, Tenzin Choegyal, Zac Brown (USA), Pascal Schumacher (Luxembourg), The Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Expressions Dance Company and the Brisbane-based trio Trichotomy.
In 2016 Rafael was a featured performer and composer with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra as part of the QSOCurrent Series where he composed, performed and directed his music for Chamber Orchestra, saxophone and piano. He was also Musical Director at the 2016 QMF Yarrabah Band Festival where he arranged, conducted and performed music with many celebrated artists including Archie Roach, Katie Noonan, Montaigne and Shellie Morris.
Rafael has also been commissioned to compose music for the opening of the 2014 and 2018 Brisbane International Jazz Festivals, the Q150 Celebrations Celebrating 150 years of QLD as an independent State, DeClassified Music Festival/Fireworks Gallery, the West Australia Youth Jazz Orchestra, and the QLD Youth Orchestra Big Band.
Rafael is a graduate of the Queensland Conservatorium of Music and from the University of York in England after receiving the Lord Mayor's Fellowship for Young and Emerging Artists. Rafael was the Director of The Queensland Youth Orchestra Big Band and has lectured at The Queensland Conservatorium of Music, The Jazz Music Institute, the JMC Academy, and taught with the Queensland Music Festival through their Cape York Instrumental Music Program.