Breaking with tradition, the winners of the 53rd Annual BMI Student Composer Awards were announced during a ceremony at the Azekka Room in the Parker Meridien Hotel, rather than at the opulent Terrace Room in the historic Plaza Hotel, on June 6, 2005. However, Awards Chairman Milton Babbitt, ever ready with an anecdote, was quick to point out that this new venue also has its share of important American music history, being on the site where an important series of recordings of music by American composers was recorded but unfortunately never released. Babbitt then presented a total of eight composers between the ages of 10 and 25 with awards for compositions ranging from a percussion solo to two works for full orchestra.
The William Schuman Prize, a special honor for the score judged most outstanding in the competition, was awarded to Joseph Sheehan (b. 1981), a current doctoral candidate at Indiana University, for his orchestral work Sail Away to Soft Sweet Bells. This work was given an open reading this past May in New York City as part of the American Composers Orchestra’s Underwood New Music Readings program. Sheehan, who also received the William Schumann Prize in 2003, is the first composer ever to receive this award a second time.
Two Carlos Surinach Prizes, awarded to the youngest winners in the competition, were presented to Preben Antonsen (b. 1991) and Conrad Tao (b. 1994). Seattle-born and Berkeley-based, Antonsen studies privately with John Adams. His award-winning work, Nickelcurve for violin and piano, received its premiere in April 2005 in a performance by Anna Presler and Sarah Cahill in San Francisco. Tao, who lives in New York City and studies privately with Christopher Theofanidis, received the award for his solo piano composition Silhouettes and Shadows which received its premiere in March 2005 as part of the Miami International Piano Festival.
The other 2005 Awardees are: Curtis composition major Sebastian Chang (b. 1988) for his Twelve Piano Etudes; Cleveland Institute master’s degree candidate Glenn Crytzer (b.1980) for his Nocturne Fantasy for orchestra; Pasadena-based Andrew Jeffrey Norman (b. 1979) for Gran Turismo scored for eight violins; Madison, Wisconsin-based Jeff Stanek (b. 1984) for I Can’t Sleep for solo percussion; and Juilliard grad Spencer Stuart Topel (b. 1979) for Akulavira for string quartet.
The jury members for the 2005 Student Composer Awards were Robert Beaser, John Eaton, Steven Mackey, Cindy McTee, and Joseph Schwantner. The preliminary judges were Chester Biscardi, Shafer Mahoney, and Bernadette Speach.
In addition to the presentation of the 2005 Student Composer Awards, BMI also presented a special Lifetime Achievement Award to George Crumb. Ralph N. Jackson, president of the BMI Foundation, Inc. and director of the Student Composer Awards, who spoke of George Crumb’s towering impact as a composer and teacher, began his comments by pointing out that while October 24, 1929, may be infamous in history as the day the stock market crashed, it was a great day for American music being the birth date of George Crumb. BMI’s new President and CEO Del R. Bryant also reminded attendees that long before receiving numerous honors, which include a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy, George Crumb began his compositional career as a recipient of a BMI Student Composer Award.