BMI Student Composers Honored at 50th Annual Awards Presentation

Charles Wuorinen and Steven Mackey reminisce about winning their own Student Composer Awards


Charles Wuorinen and Steven Mackey reminisce about winning their own Student Composer Awards

Awards are great at any age, but few would argue that the practical aspect of a cash prize often has an especially powerful impact on a young career. “Not only can I pay my rent for the summer, but I bought a new air conditioner so I can actually stay in and write in comfort during these sweltering months,” admits Gordon Beeferman, a winner in the 50th Annual BMI Student Composer Awards.

On a more serious note, Beeferman points out that “aside from the material aspect, the publicity is great too; but mostly it is the sum of all the parts that is meaningful, namely the self-esteem boost it gives, for someone to say ‘we want to reward you publicly for your dedication to writing music.’ “

In total, nine young composers, ranging in age from 14 to 26, were named winners in this year’s competition, selected from among some 700 submitted scores. They received cash prizes totaling $20,000. Frances W. Preston, BMI President and CEO, presented the awards at a recent reception held in New York City. Milton Babbitt, Chairman of the awards, and Ralph N. Jackson, Director of the awards, joined Preston on the podium to honor the winners.

The 2002 BMI Student Composer Award winners were:

  • Christopher Ariza (age 25, studies at New York University)
  • Sebastian Chang (age 14, studies privately in Orange County, California)
  • Gordon Beeferman (age 25, studies privately in New York City)
  • Derek Johnson (age 26, studies at Indiana University)
  • John Kaefer (age 25, studies at The Juilliard School)
  • David T. Little (age 23, studies at the University of Michigan)
  • Jeff Myers (age 24, studies at the Eastman School of Music)
  • Colin Bradley Pridy (age 24, studies at Dalhousie University)
  • Geoffrey M. Wooden (age 25, studies at The University of British Columbia)

The 2002 Student Composer Awards’ jury members were: Leslie Bassett, Aaron Jay Kernis, Osvaldo Golijov, Michael Torke, and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. The preliminary judges were Chester Biscardi, David Leisner, and Bernadette Speach.

Beeferman was also named the winner of the 2002 William Schuman Prize, awarded to the “most outstanding” score. The prize is given annually in memory of the late William Schuman, who served for 40 years as Chairman, then Chairman Emeritus, of the BMI Student Composer Awards. A special Carlos Surinach Prize, underwritten by the BMI Foundation’s special endowed fund, was awarded to the youngest winner of the competition, 14-year-old Sebastian Chang.

“When I stood up to receive the award, I was amazed there were so many people there,” admits Beeferman. “Sometimes you forget that there are actually a couple of other people out there who know what it means to be a composer.”

Equally enthusiastic, two-time award winner Jeff Myers added his own perspective, noting that this time around, “I think it kind of confirmed for me that I must be doing something ‘right’ in music. Not that I tend to seek favor from people, but having other prominent people in my field select my work over others makes me feel like, well, that the first time I won wasn’t a fluke!”

In total, BMI has given 468 scholarship grants to young composers over the years, including 11 who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. Adding an especially poignant quality to the evening, a number of former winners were in attendance at the ceremony this year including Teo Macero, Mario Davidovsky, Charles Wuorinen, Michael Torke, Aaron Jay Kernis, Steven Mackey, and Tobias Picker. Torke, who won the prize in 1982, ’83, and ’84, recalled the practical impact the award had on his own life. “The summer vacations between my undergraduate school years were meant, in the eyes of my parents, to work and earn money. I wanted to go to Tanglewood. By winning the student awards, I could convince my parents to let me go.”

Torke also noted the importance of the annual awards event for the winners and the BMI composer community. It’s an “opportunity for the young composers to meet people in the industry. As a student award winner, I was very excited to be flown to New York: you had the feeling that the seeds to the beginning of one’s career were being sown.”

As might be expected, the awards had many of the composers considering their future careers, and many commented on the importance of staying true to a personal aesthetic. John Kaefer makes no apologies for this attitude. “As a composer, my mission is fairly straightforward: to write music that I myself would want to hear. Although awards, performances, and fellowships are terrific and certainly welcomed, I do not and cannot rely upon these markers as a measure of my musical self-worth.”

Jeff Myers concurs, citing a desire to “continue to write high quality music that is continually satisfying in both the process and the end product. I hope it touches people in some way, but I don’t wish to try and write what I think people would want to hear. I am composing, basically, for myself. And by doing this, the result is honest music. I would have it no other way.”