Composer, guitarist, and violist John King and interdisciplinary artist Rinde Eckert are among the 2009 recipients of the Alpert Award in the Arts. The award provides unrestricted annual prizes of $75,000 to five engaged, independent artists working in the fields of dance, film/video, music, theatre, and the visual arts. Initiated and funded by The Herb Alpert Foundation and administered by California Institute of the Arts, the award “rewards experimenters who are challenging and transforming art, their respective disciplines, and society.”
Rooted in 20th century experimental music, John King has written media operas for full orchestras and voice, instrumental solos, string quartets, and mixed chamber works with live electronics. He draws from both classical and vernacular music traditions, synthesizing the conceptual with the avant-garde. Underneath his plasticity lays a singular ethos: King celebrates the ineluctable mutability of the audible. His music, often structurally open, braids the written with the improvisational, spontaneity with indeterminacy, coalescing live and processed sound and, at times, allows performers unusual individual freedom in performance. Using the score as a temporal guidepost, a singer’s voice accompanied by full orchestra in one performance could, with the structure randomly altered, be accompanied by a solo flute at another; players’ heartbeats could determine multiple tempii. King’s work can be thought of as intense, visceral dialogue.
With a virtuosic command of gesture, language, and song, writer, composer, librettist, musician, performer, and director, total theatre artist Rinde Eckert moves beyond the boundaries of what a “play,” a “dance piece,” an “opera” or “musical” might be, in the service of grappling with complex issues. Eckert makes solo work, chamber pieces, and through-composed operas with larger casts, and has long collaborated with other art makers including choreographer Margaret Jenkins, composers Steven Mackey and Paul Dresher, directors Robert Woodruff and David Schweizer, and the new music ensemble, eighth blackbird. Eckert describes many of his characters as “little men with big ideas whose consequences of their hubris are often disastrous.” Sometimes tragic and austere, sometimes broadly comedic, entirely grounded by presence, Eckert’s work is alchemical: moving from rumination and distillation to hard-won illumination, or its lack.
In addition to the Alpert Awards, four residency prizes were announced. Composer Lisa Bielawa (New York) has received the Alpert/Ragdale Prize, which provides for a residency at the Ragdale artist community located north of Chicago. The Alpert/Ucross Residency Prize went to composers Eve Beglarian (New York), James Newton (Santa Monica), and Matana Roberts (New York). They will be in residence at the Ucross Foundation, located on a 20,000-acre working cattle ranch in northeastern Wyoming. (—Condensed from the press release)