2010 American Music Center Awards Announced

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And the awardees are…
Photo by Matthew Bologna

The American Music Center has announced the honorees who will be acknowledged at its 2010 Annual Meeting and Awards Ceremony on May 3 at the Chelsea Art Museum in New York City. Francis Thorne will receive AMC’s Founders Award in recognition of his lifetime achievement in the field of new American music. AMC Letters of Distinction will be awarded to Jack Beeson, Fred Ho, Meredith Monk, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Society for New Music. In addition, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) will be given AMC’s Trailblazer Award. (Francis Thorne and Esa-Pekka Salonen cannot be in attendance and will be presented with their awards on other occasions.) Full biographies are appended to the end of this report.

“Each year, we are proud to honor those who have given so much of their talent and passion to this industry,” commented AMC President and CEO Joanne Hubbard Cossa. “This illustrious group of composers and performers truly exemplifies the diversity and extraordinary abilities of those championing new American music today, and each winner has made an extraordinary contribution to the world of contemporary music in this country. We are extremely proud to honor Francis Thorne with our Founders Award. Not only have his compositions had a lasting impact on new American music, but his co-founding of the American Composers Orchestra some thirty-five years ago advanced the field enormously. Those receiving Letters of Distinction—Jack Beeson, Fred Ho, Meredith Monk, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Society for New Music—have left their mark on the new American musical landscape in five very different ways. Collectively they have served the community as composers, performers, mentors, teachers, and music advocates. Their contributions to the field are diverse and unparalleled. Lastly the commitment, style, and fresh new look International Contemporary Ensemble brings to new American music makes them the perfect recipient for our Trailblazer Award.”

The American Music Center has annually awarded Letters of Distinction since 1964 to recognize those who have made a significant contribution to the field of contemporary American music. This year’s recipients join a celebrated group of individuals and organizations who have received this honor, including George Balanchine, Leonard Bernstein, John Cage, Joan Tower, Merce Cunningham, Morton Feldman, Laurie Anderson, Dizzy Gillespie, Steve Reich, Michael Tilson Thomas, Virgil Thomson, Joan La Barbara, Randy Weston, the Kronos Quartet, Bang on a Can, Dawn Upshaw, and the American Composers Orchestra. The Founders Award, established in 1999, is named in honor of the six founders of the American Music Center: Aaron Copland, Howard Hansen, Marion Bauer, Otto Luening, Quincy Porter, and Harrison Kerr. It celebrates lifetime achievement in the field of new American music. Previous winners include: Elliott Carter, Lou Harrison, Milton Babbitt, and Steve Reich. Last year’s honoree was Gunther Schuller. The Trailblazer Award, instituted in 2003, honors those deserving of commendation and support from the American contemporary music community for their early and mid-career efforts toward championing new music. Previous winners have included Matt Haimovitz, eighth blackbird, and Derek Bermel. (There is a complete list of all the previous recipients of AMC awards, dating back to since 1964, on the American Music Center’s website.)

The American Music Center’s 2010 Annual Meeting and Awards Ceremony will take place on Monday, May 3, 2010, at the Chelsea Art Museum in New York City from 5-7pm and is open to all American Music Center members in good standing and invited guests.

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Biographies of American Music Center’s 2010 Honorees

Francis Thorne

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Francis Thorne
photo courtesy Theodore Presser Co.

Francis Thorne embraced his passion for composition after a varied career as a naval officer, banker, stockbroker, and jazz pianist. Born into a musical family, the young Thorne studied composition at Yale, but after graduation he entered the Navy to serve in WWII. Following the end of the war, he pursued a career on Wall Street. It wasn’t until the mid-1950s that he decided to return to music and he began performing as a jazz pianist. After hearing Thorne play, Duke Ellington recommended him to the famed Hickory House jazz club where he landed a two-year engagement. In 1958, Thorne moved his family to Italy to study privately with David Diamond and develop the craftsmanship that would set his music apart with its distinctive interweaving of jazz and classical forms. Thorne’s first orchestral success, Elegy for Orchestra—premiered by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1964—came at the age of 42. With jazz as an ever-present influence, Thorne’s eclectic tastes led to his grounding-breaking and genre-bending 1968 composition, Sonar Plexus, for electric guitar and orchestra. Since then, Thorne has been the recipient of numerous commissions and awards, from such organizations as the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Rockefeller Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Today his catalogue includes over 117 works in every genre, ranging from intimate songs and piano pieces to operas, three piano concertos, and seven symphonies. In addition to his activities as a composer, Thorne has advocated for American music through his career-long participation on boards of new music and composer service organizations, including the American Music Center and the American Composers Orchestra, which he co-founded with Dennis Russell Davies and Paul Lustig Dunkel and which is now in its 33rd season. (Click here to read more about Thorne’s founding of the American Composers Orchestra from the very first issue of NewMusicBox in May 1999, here to read about Thorne’s participation in the Copland’s House very first Composer’s Hour, posted to NewMusicBox in November 2000, or here to listen to a snippet from his 2001 recording, La luce eterna, featured in NewMusicBox in September 2001.)


Jack Beeson

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Jack Beeson
Photo by Dietrich Dettmann, courtesy Boosey & Hawkes

Jack Beeson was born in 1921 in Muncie IN and began piano lessons at the age of 7, soon additionally studying clarinet, xylophone, and composition. Seduced by the Metropolitan Opera’s first broadcasts, Beeson spent his teenage years atypically—writing three libretti while also attempting to set some scenes to music. He attended the Eastman School of Music, majoring in composition (while continuing piano and cello studies), where he earned Bachelor and Master degrees. Beeson interrupted his Doctoral work to go to New York City to study with Béla Bartók, who—six months later—unfortunately became too ill to work with the young composer. By that time, Beeson had become the coach and assistant conductor of the Columbia University Opera Workshop, where he was integrally involved with annual productions of premieres of works by American composers. He remained at Columbia for 50 years, teaching and mentoring some 300 graduate students. For 22 years, he has also served as the MacDowell Professor Emeritus of Music. Throughout his career, Beeson’s commitment to new music included serving on the boards of many organizations which support American composers; he is still actively involved with ASCAP and the Ditson Fund. Beeson’s composition catalogue is extensive, comprising works for orchestra, band, and chamber ensemble. However, his main output has been vocal music, including songs, choral pieces, and ten operas, among them Hello Out There and Lizzie Borden which have both been widely performed as well as televised in the United States and abroad. In 2008, Edwin Mellen Press published his autobiography, How Operas Are Created by Composers and Librettists: The Life of Jack Beeson, American Opera Composer. (Click here to read Jack Beeson’s comments about the differences between opera and musical theatre published in April 2001 in NewMusicBox.)


Fred Ho

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Fred Ho

Fred Ho—composer, baritone saxophonist, producer, playwright, author, and social activist—is the leader of the Afro Asian Music Ensemble (sextet), the Green Monster Big Band (a 21 piece chamber orchestra), the Monkey Orchestra (a unique chamber ensemble/big band comprised of traditional Chinese and western instrumentation and Chinese language vocals), Caliente: Circle Around the Sun (duet with poet Magdalena Gomez), the Afro Asian Scientific Soul Duo (with tenor saxophonist Salim Washington), and the Saxophone Liberation Front (a saxophone quartet). An assertive but affirmational political agenda is the cornerstone of all of the music of Fred Ho, who earned a degree in sociology from Harvard University but is a self-taught musician and composer. For over two decades, Ho’s insight has presciently embraced 21st century multiculturalism with his intricate and soulful amalgamation of a number of musical traditions spanning musical theatre, African American and traditional Chinese folk music. Described as both brilliant and chaotic, Ho’s music is “is neither easily pigeonholed nor easily ignored.” (Washington Post) His output encompasses solos and compositions for his own ensembles, orchestral pieces, operas and music/theater epics, multimedia performance works, martial arts ballets, and oratorios. His opera, A Chinaman’s Chance, which received its premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, was the first contemporary Chinese-American opera. Ho has been honored with numerous commissions and awards, most recently receiving the 2009 Harvard Arts Medal. He was also named the first Asian American recipient of the Duke Ellington Distinguished Artist Lifetime Achievement Award from the Black Musicians Conference. (Click here to read and watch an October 2008 NewMusicBox conversation with Fred Ho.)


Meredith Monk

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Meredith Monk
Photo by K. Scott Schafer

Meredith Monk is a composer, singer, choreographer, filmmaker, and creator of new opera and music theater works. During a career spanning five decades, Monk has been acclaimed by audiences and critics as a major creative force. A pioneer in what is now called “extended vocal technique” and “interdisciplinary performance,” Monk has been hailed as a “magician of the voice,” and “one of America’s coolest composers.” In 1965, she began her innovative exploration of the voice as a multi-faceted instrument and subsequently composed and performed many solo pieces for unaccompanied voice and voice/keyboard. In 1978, she formed Meredith Monk and Vocal Ensemble to further expand her musical textures and forms. Her vocal music is an eloquent language in and of itself which expands the boundaries of musical composition, creating landscapes of sound that unearth feelings, energies, and memories for which there are no words. In addition to her groundbreaking vocal and theater pieces (which include Book of Days, Dolmen Music, Mercy, Impermanence, and ATLAS), Monk has created vital new repertoire for orchestra, chamber ensembles, and solo instruments. Her music has also appeared in motion pictures by Jean-Luc Godard and the Coen Brothers, among others. Celebrated internationally, her music has been presented by the Lincoln Center Festival, Houston Grand Opera, London’s Barbican Center, and at major venues in countries from Brazil to Syria. Monk’s most recent work, composed for chamber orchestra, chorus, and two vocal soloists, was premiered in March by the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. With a discography featuring over a dozen recordings, Monk’s numerous honors include induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, receiving a MacArthur Award and being named a United States Artists Fellow. (Click here to read and watch a March 2000 NewMusicBox conversation with Meredith Monk.)


Esa-Pekka Salonen

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Esa-Pekka Salonen
Photo courtesy G. Schirmer/Music Sales

Esa-Pekka Salonen is renowned both for his striking compositions and his illuminating interpretations of contemporary music. The Helsinki-born Salonen has led countless premieres of new works since his arrival in the United States in 1992 to serve as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic—a position he held until 2009. (He is now Conductor Laureate.) A champion of American composers, he has conducted world premieres of works by John Adams, William Kraft, Bernard Rands, Steven Stucky, Tan Dun, and Augusta Read Thomas, among others, and has recorded major works by John Corigliano, Bernard Herrmann, and Wynton Marsalis. He has also introduced American audiences to works by some of the most respected international composers, including Franco Donatoni, Anders Hillborg, Magnus Lindberg, Witold Lutoslawski, Kaija Saariaho, and Rodion Shchedrin. Being such a strong advocate for the music of other composers initially made it difficult for Salonen to have time to work on his own compositions, but in recent years he has been able to take time off from his demanding conducting schedule to actively compose large-scale works, many of which have been inspired by his adopted California homeland. LA Variations, commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, had a triumphant premiere in January 1997 and has since proven to be one of the most popular orchestral works of recent decades. Wing on Wing, a 2004 score for two sopranos and orchestra inspired by Frank Gehry’s remarkable architecture for Walt Disney Concert Hall, has also been highly successful both in the United States and abroad. His 2009 Violin Concerto for Leila Josefowicz has recently toured Europe and will be performed as the score for a new ballet danced by the New York City Ballet this June. (Click here to read and watch a June 2005 NewMusicBox conversation with Esa-Pekka Salonen.)


Society for New Music (SNM)

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Since its founding in 1971, Society for New Music (SNM) has served the central New York State community by bringing new music to a broad audience throughout the region. Founding members Neva Pilgrim, Ralph D’Mello, and Greg Levinhave successfully guided the Society’s growth as it has become a driving cultural force for contemporary music in the United States through its commissioning activities, performances, recordings, and other initiatives. SNM commissions at least one new work each season, has produced four recordings including a CD featuring its commissioned works, and hosts the Cazenovia Counterpoint summer festival. As New York State’s only year-round new music organization outside of Manhattan, SNM provides a format for living composers in the same way art galleries offer a platform for visual artists. It presents multiple opportunities for audiences of all ages to become conversant with the music of their time and strives to feature diverse styles of contemporary works. Originally offering five performances a year, SNM’s programming has grown to approximately 25 concerts per season, with additional workshops and master classes. It also funds composer-residencies in inner-city schools. SNM has offered opportunities to composers across a wide career spectrum, prominently featuring regional composers alongside nationally-known composers. They have also brought new music beyond the concert hall through their cable TV concerts as well as on their weekly hour-long new music radio program, “Fresh Ink,” which airs on several local stations in the region and is also accessible throughout the world via the website of Central New York’s public broadcasting station WCNY. The Society has previously been honored with ASCAP/Chamber Music America Awards, the American Composer Alliance’s Laurel Leaf Award, and a New York State Governor’s Arts Award. (Click here to read a brief 2005 NewMusicBox about the Society for New Music’s five CD set, American Masters for the 21st Century and to listen to an excerpt from one of the recordings.)


International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE)

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Some of the members of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE)

Founded in 2001, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) has established itself as one of the leading new-music ensembles and organizations of its generation, performing over 50 concerts a year in the United States and abroad. With a roster of 30 of the country’s most accomplished young musicians and a staff of visionary arts entrepreneurs, ICE functions as performer, presenter, and educator, advancing the music of our time by commissioning and performing new works and by developing groundbreaking strategies for audience engagement. In an era of increasingly diverse audiences, changes in arts education, new patronage models, and rapidly shifting musical genres, ICE redefines concert music as it brings together new works and new listeners. ICE emphasizes inter-disciplinary collaborations (including multimedia and dance) and active commissioning of both unknown and established composers. Over the course of its short history, ICE has already given over 400 world premieres and has issued several critically acclaimed recordings on the Bridge, Naxos, and New Focus labels. Forthcoming 2010 releases include albums for New Amsterdam, Nonesuch, Mode, and Tzadik. Along with its concerts at major world venues, ICE also presents performances in non-traditional venues and has self-produced eight large-scale contemporary music festivals in settings as wide-ranging as nightclubs, galleries, and public spaces, many of which are free and open to the public. (Click here to read and watch a March 2007 NewMusicBox conversation with members of the International Contemporary Ensemble.)