The American Academy of Arts and Letters held its annual Ceremonial yesterday afternoon. The two-hour event is devoted to a lengthy address by one of the academicians, the admission of new members, and the presentation of numerous awards chosen by committees comprised of academy members. (The membership consists of exactly 250 Americans divided into the departments of art, literature, and music, plus an additional group of non-voting honorary members who either are foreign artists, writers, and composers—no more than 75—or are Americans whose works falls outside of those categories—no more than 10. A new member is admitted following the death of a member based on a current member’s nomination and a vote by all of the members.) As per tradition, the ceremony always begins with a photo op—a photo of current academy members and awardees who remain in their assigned seats on the stage throughout. (A seating plan is distributed with the program booklet. E.g. this year short story writer Lydia Davis, a 2013 awardee, was seated in between Academician E. L. Doctorow and Honorary Member Meryl Streep!)
Following the ceremony, there is always a reception which is one of the more impressive music schmoozefests of the year (and also an art and literature schmoozefest), plus the official opening of the academy’s art exhibition (devoted to the work of the year’s awardees and inductees). It also usually rains; miraculously this year it didn’t for once!
At the reception, Kamran Ince spoke briefly about receiving one of 2013 Arts and Letters Awards.
While no composers were inducted this year—which is actually good news because that means that none of the current composer members died this past year—Bob Dylan was named an honorary member. The event made the AP news wire and was picked up by newspapers from the Washington Post to the Daily Sentinel in Nagadoches, Texas. It was the first time the Ceremonial made national headlines in quite some time—it helps to give awards to rock stars. Unfortunately, Bob Dylan was not able to attend.
Michael Chabon gave this year’s address in which he talked extensively and passionately about the lyrics of rock songs which he claimed have had more of an impact on his own writing than the works of most poets and novelists. There was also a wonderful speech by Ira Glass, host of This American Life, who received the academy’s 2013 Medal for Spoken Language. Glass is actually a cousin of academy member composer Philip Glass who usually does not attend and who this year had a very good reason for not being able to be there.
This year the academy gave out a total of $910,000 to 68 visual artists, architects, writers, and composers; 18 composers received awards. Composer Adam Roberts was the recipient of the 2013 Benjamin H. Danks Award, an annual prize of $20,000 which is given in rotation to a composer of ensemble works, a playwright, and a writer. Arthur V. Krieger received the 2013 Walter Hinrichsen Award, a prize established by the C.F. Peters Corporation given annually for the publication of a work by a mid-career American composer. Joshua Cody, Stephen Feigenbaum, Patrick Harlin, Tonia Ko, Michael Lee, and Elizabeth Ogonek received the six annually awarded $7,500 Charles Ives Scholarships; David Fulmer and Ted Hearne received the two annually awarded $15,000 Charles Ives Fellowships. Daniel Ott and Kate Soper were the recipients of the two annually awarded $15,000 Goddard Lieberson Fellowships.
Tonio Ko, one of the six recipients of a 2013 Ives Scholarship, talked briefly with us at the beginning of the reception following the ceremony.
The only awards given by the academy which accept applications are the Richard Rodgers Awards for Musical Theatre which subsidizes full productions, studio productions, and staged readings in New York City by nonprofit theaters of musical plays by composers and writers who are not already established in this field. These awards are also the only awards judged by a panel including non-academicians. This year, two musicals were awarded—Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 (book, lyrics, and music by Dave Molloy) and The Kid Who Would Be Pope (book, lyrics, and music by Jack Megan and Tom Megan).
In addition to these endowed awards, the academy also annually awards its own $7,500 Arts and Letters Award to five visual artists, three architects, eight writers, and four composers. The award-winning composers each receive an additional $7,500 toward the recording of one of their compositions. This year’s winners were Steven Burke, Tom Cipullo, Donald Crockett, and Kamran Ince. It was wonderful to see these four composers acknowledged, but it was somewhat disheartening because while two of the eight literature awardees this year were women, and among the five visual artists selected four were women, there was not a single female awardee for music. Admittedly the four architecture awardees were also all male, but a debate about that is probably best left to another publication.
As the reception was winding down, we caught up with Joshua Cody, another 2013 Ives Scholarship recipient, who these days balances his musical activities with literary ones, making this annual gathering of composers, writers, and artists an ideal environment for him.