BMI Smiles Upon Student Composers
The winners of the 51st Annual BMI Student Composer Awards were announced at a reception at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Presenting the awards, BMI President and CEO Frances W. Preston acknowledged the success that the awards have had for the past 50 years. “Today, as we begin the second half-century of these awards, we are inspired by the talent and dedication of our young winners who show so much promise for the future.”
She also used the opportunity to reassure those present that the BMI Foundation remains healthy. “In such a difficult time for the arts, it is remarkable and encouraging that our Foundation grows and prospers.” The nine student composers, ranging in age from 19 to 26, represent a future for concert music that extends beyond the fiscal, artistic, and legal difficulties of today’s arts world. Chosen from over 1000 submissions, this year’s competition winners become a part of a history that, as Preston stated, has been “so wonderfully successful in discovering and encouraging some of the world’s most talented young composers.” Each winner’s “superior creative talent” is recognized with a scholarship grant intended to support the recipient’s educational pursuits. Since the inception of the awards in 1952, 477 grants have been given and the list of past awardees boasts 11 Pulitzer Prize winners. This years winners were Mason Bates, Ben S. Jacob, James D. Norman, Robert Janusz Pierzak, Joel Puckett, Joseph Sheehan, Nathan Shields, Jeffrey Stanek, and Dan Visconti.
In addition to the standard awards, this year giving grants totaling $20,000, BMI offers two other awards: The William Schuman Prize, awarded to the score judged “most outstanding” in competition, and the Carlos Surinach Prizes, which are awarded to the two youngest winners of the competition. Joseph Sheehan, a 22 year-old Master’s candidate at Indiana University, took home the prestigious William Schuman Prize for his String Quartet, which will receive its premiere at Indiana University later this year. The two Carlos Surinach Prizes were awarded to Ithaca College student Robert Janusz Pierzak and another Indiana University student Jeffrey Stanek. Both composers are 19 years old.
Ben S. Jacob, a 26 year-old winner who is currently pursuing his Master’s in Music Composition at Indiana University, is all too aware of the challenges that face composers today and is grateful for the recognition by BMI. “The largest challenge to composers today is the classical music establishment itself. Ever since the rise of modernism in music early in the twentieth century, which most often seems to be blamed on composers like Arnold Schoenberg, the world of classical music, with the primary exception of composers, has made a clear effort to establish a canon of compositions that are acceptable the prevalent musical tastes of that bygone era.”
Such standards have made creating new works a daunting task for all composers and especially for emerging talent, and Jacob credits BMI as being one of the principal organizations that is attempting to repair the situation. His winning piece, Thickness, for solo drum set, contains perhaps the most unusual instrumentation choice of any of the selected pieces. He admits that he was surprised that the piece was chosen because of its daring nature, but is optimistic about the decision’s ramifications. “This decision encourages us all to expand our notions of what classical music is and can be and proves that classical music is about more than such superficial elements as the extant palette of instruments and the established repertory of music written for those instruments.”
Jacob also sites the competition as playing a major role in the preservation of music notation. Winning pieces are selected solely on the basis of the score, which is submitted under a pseudonym. While this is a disadvantage for composers who’s works depend on elements that exist outside of what is written, it emphasizes a solid ability to express ideas through notation. And indeed, the appellation “Student” Composer Awards indicates a predilection toward more academically oriented musical threads. This year’s jury included Margaret Brouwer, Michael Daugherty, Mario Davidovsky, Christopher Rouse, and Joan Tower and the preliminary judges were Shafer Mahoney, David Leisner, and Bernadette Speach. BMI Lifetime Achievement Award winner Milton Babbitt continues in his role of Awards Chairman.
Winners of a BMI Student Composer Award are also eligible for two BMI commissioning programs: The Carlos Surinach Commissioning Program and the Boudleaux Bryant Commission Program. Both offer recent winners of a Student Composer Award an opportunity to write a work for prominent orchestras, chamber ensembles, and soloists who have shown a strong dedication to the performance of contemporary music.
MEET THE WINNERS:
(Bios courtesy BMI)
BMI award-winning work: String Band, for violin, cello and prepared piano
Mason Bates was born in 1977 in Richmond, Virginia and currently lives in Oakland, California. He received a B.A. degree in English literature from Columbia College in 2000, a M.M. degree in composition from the Juilliard School in 2001 and is currently pursuing a PhD in composition at the University of California Berkeley. His composition teachers include John Corigliano, David Del Tredici, Samuel Adler, Ed Campion and Jorge Lidermann. He is the recipient of the 2003 Rome Prize, both the 2002 Charles Ives Fellowship and the 1997 Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Jacob Druckman Prize from the Aspen Music Festival, and a 1997 Tanglewood Composition Fellowship. He is currently managed by Young Concert Artists (YCA) and served as the YCA Composer-in-Residence from 2000 to 2002. Bates’ music has been performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Phoenix Symphony, Spoleto USA Festival Orchestra, the Louisville Orchestra and at venues such as Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Tanglewood, Aspen, and Juilliard, to name a few. As a DJ and electonia artist known as Masonic®, he spins trip-hop (bona fide hip-hop beats with a more instrumental take) throughout the lounges of San Francisco. The Claremont Trio premiered his BMI award-winning work in Half Moon Bay, California in 2002.
Ben S. Jacob
BMI award-winning work: Thickness, for solo drum set
Ben S. Jacob was born in 1977 in Springfield, Illinois and currently lives in Bloomington, Indiana. In 2000, he received a B.A. degree in music composition from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and he is now pursuing a M.M. degree in composition at Indiana University. His teachers include William Brooks, Guy Garnett, P.Q. Phan, Claude Baker, and Don Freund. He was the 2nd Prize winner in the NACUSA 24th Annual Young Composers’ Competition, received a Tuition Waiver Award from the University of Illinois for excellence in academic and musical achievement, and has participated in the 1998 and 1999 Midwest Composers Symposiums. He performs on electric guitar, bass guitar and drum set and has also studied a number of world music instruments, including the siku, tarka, gamelan, and sitar. Jacob’s music has been performed on many occasions in Urbana and Bloomington, as well as in Iowa City and Ann Arbor. His BMI award-winning work was premiered in 2001 at the University of Illinois by percussionist Owen Rockwell, for whom the work was written.
James D. Norman
BMI award-winning work: Ligyrophobia, for orchestra
James D. Norman was born in 1980 in Salem, Oregon and currently lives in Austin, Texas. He received a B.M. degree in composition in 2002 from the University of Southern California, where he studied with Donald Crockett, Frank Ticheli and Stephen Hartke. Currently working on a M.M. degree in composition at The University of Texas at Austin, he is a composition student of Kevin Puts. Norman has studied trombone and piano and has performed with many orchestras and wind ensembles at USC, UT Austin and throughout the Northwest. His orchestral and chamber music has been performed in Los Angeles, Austin, Seattle and in Oregon. The winner of the USC Symphony Orchestra Composition Contest and the 2003 Northwest Horn Society Composition Competition, he was also a Fellow at the Atlantic Center for the Arts and has received the Robert Lin Memorial Prize for composers. Honorable mentions have come from the 2003 ACO Whitaker New Music Reading Session, the Oregon Symphony Young Composers’ Competition and the Southwest Piano Trio Composition Competition. His BMI award-winning work was premiered by the University of Texas Symphony in March 2003.
Robert Janusz Pierzak (2003 Carlos Surinach Prize)
BMI award-winning work: Alone in the Night, for cello and piano
Robert Janusz Pierzak was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1984 and currently lives in Stratford, Connecticut. He is a freshman at Ithaca College, working toward a B.M. degree in composition. He currently studies composition with Dana Wilson and has studied piano with Lorraine Zuba and Jerry Wong. The salutatorian of his high school class, he is also the winner of the President’s Scholarship from Ithaca College and the winner of 1st Prize in the 2002 Yale College Composer’s Group High School Composition Contest. Pierzak was recently inducted into the Oracle Honor Society at Ithaca College. He has had several performances of his solo instrumental and chamber music in Bridgeport, New Haven and Ithaca. His BMI award-winning work was premiered by Chris Loxley and Elyssa Lindsey in 2003 at Ithaca College.
BMI award-winning work: Colloquial Threads, for violin and piano
Joel Puckett was born in 1977 in Atlanta, Georgia and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. He received a B.M. degree in 1999 from Shenandoah University and a M.M. degree in composition in 2001 from the University of Michigan, where he is currently a DMA candidate. His composition teachers include William Bolcom, Michael Daugherty, Bright Sheng, William Averitt and Thomas Albert. Active as a cantor at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Detroit, he has also performed many contemporary works and presented cabaret performances in Ann Arbor. He is the recipient of an Aspen Merit Fellowship, the Russell Woolen Prize, and several fellowships and grants from the University of Michigan. His music has been performed in Prague, Stuttgart, Vienna and Ebersbach by Grammy award-winning conductor Robert Shafer, in Ann Arbor by the University of Michigan Symphony and other chamber ensembles and soloists, and at the 2003 Midwest Composers Symposium in Oberlin. Violinist Scott Conklin and Rob Auller are currently touring with Puckett’s BMI award-winning work.
Joseph Sheehan (2003 William Schuman Prize)
BMI award-wining work: String Quartet Joseph Sheehan was born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 1981 and currently lives in Bloomington, Indiana. He graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.A. degree in Music Technology and Composition from Duquesne University in 2002 and is now pursuing a M.M. degree in composition from Indiana University, where he holds a Graduate Assistantship in Music Copying for 2003-2004. His composition teachers are David Stock and Claude Baker. As a jazz pianist he has performed with the Duquesne Jazz Band, the Roger Humphries Big Band and the Justin Surdyn Quintet, and has also performed on synthesizers, electronic drums and electronic wind controller in the Duquesne University Electronic Ensemble. In 1998 he was selected for the All-State Band on Tenor Saxophone and also won the 1997 Duquesne Univeristy Freshman Piano Competition. His music has been performed by the Duquesne University New Music Ensemble, the Westmoreland Chamber Choir and on numerous occasions in Pittsburgh, Bloomington and at Radford University in Virginia. His BMI award-winning work will be premiered at Indiana University in late 2003.
BMI award-winning work: String Quartet Nathan Shields was born in Traverse City, Michigan in 1983 and currently lives in Poughkeepsie, New York. A freshman at the New England Conservatory of Music, he is pursuing a B.M. degree in composition and studying with Lee Hyla. He has also studied composition with Barbara Mallow and Andrew Thomas. Shields won 2nd Place in the 2002 National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts Young Composer Awards. As a cellist, he has studied with Barbara Mallow and Yeesun Kim and has performed with the New York Youth Symphony chamber music program and in various contemporary chamber music ensembles. His music has been performed on the Gamper Contemporary Music Festival at the Bowdoin Summer Music Festival, at the Greenwich House Music School in New York City, at Boston University, and at the Tanglewood Institute. Excerpts of his BMI award-winning work were performed in 2003 at the New England Conservatory.
Jeffrey Stanek (2003 Carlos Surinach Prize)
BMI award-winning work: Fantasies and Dances, for solo violin
Jeffrey Stanek was born in Madison, Wisconsin in 1984. He currently studies at Indiana University, where he is pursuing a B.M. degree in composition. His composition teachers include Stephen Dembski and Don Freund and he has studied piano with Jean-Louis Haguenauer and Rentao Premezzi. He is a cellist with the Indiana University Orchestra and has performed as piano soloist with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Birch Creek Symphony Orchestra. The winner of the 2001 Wisconsin Alliance for Composers Student Composition Contest, he has also received scholarships to attend The Walden School in Dublin, New Hampshire. His music has been performed by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Phoenix String Quartet and by the new music ensemble, Non sequitur. His BMI award-winning work was premiered at the 2003 Midwest Composer’s Symposium at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and has also been performed at Indiana University.
BMI award-winning work: Nine Poems, for baritone and chamber ensemble
Dan Visconti was born in LaGrange, Illinois in 1982 and currently lives in Cleveland Ohio. He is enrolled at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM), where he is working on a B.M. degree in composition. His composition teachers include Margaret Brouwer and Patricia Morehead and he has attended master classes with John Corigliano, Stephen Paulus, Bruce Adolphe, Libby Larsen, Scott Wheeler, Steven Mackey, Joseph Schwantner and Paul Schoenfield. Active as a jazz and blues guitarist, he studied guitar with Don Better at CIM and he has also studied violin with Thomas Wermuth and Carol Ruzicka. Visconti is the winner of several prizes in the Illinois Music Educators’ Association Composition Awards (1999-2000), 2nd Prize in the Hart School Young Composers Competition, and the 2000 John Ovnivk Music Scholarship. His Tearing the Flag for solo viola was performed in 2000 at the Pittsburgh Concert Society’s Winner’s Concert and he has recently received commissions from the Moore/Better Duo for a work for soprano and guitar and from Clark Barnes for a solo flute work to be performed at Interlochen. His BMI award-winning work was premiered in 2002 at the Cleveland Institute of Music.