Esa-Pekka Salonen and Peter Martins receive AMC Letters of Distinction

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Esa-Pekka Salonen (L) and Peter Martins receive AMC Letters of Distinction from Ed Yim (R)
Photo © by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy New York City Ballet


On June 22, 2010, the American Music Center presented composer/conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and choreographer Peter Martins with Letters of Distinction on the stage of the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center immediately prior to the New York City Ballet’s premiere of the new Martins ballet Mirage featuring the score of Salonen’s Violin Concerto.

In presenting the honors, American Music Center First Vice-Chair Ed Yim remarked:

Every year, the Center awards its Letters of Distinction to recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to our field….That one gentleman hails from Finland and one from Denmark only makes the presentation of the American Music Center’s award more meaningful. American music—indeed American art—has always been about the embracing of different nationalities in our uniquely blended national context.

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. (Click here to read a 2005 NewMusicBox conversation with Esa-Pekka Salonen.)

Danish-born Peter Martins began his association with New York City Ballet in 1967, when he was invited to dance the title role in George Balanchine’s Apollo during the company’s appearance at the Edinburgh Festival. He then performed as a guest artist with NYCB for three years before joining the company as a principal dancer in 1970. In 1981, Martins was named Ballet Master for NYCB, a title he shared with Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, and John Taras. From 1983, following Balanchine’s death, Martins served as Co-Ballet Master in Chief with Robbins, assuming sole directorship of the company in 1989. In addition, Martins is the Artistic Director and Chairman of Faculty of the School of American Ballet, the official school of NYCB. Martins began his career as a choreographer in 1977 with Calcium Light Night, set to several pieces of music by Charles Ives. He has since created more than 80 ballets—primarily for NYCB, ranging from pas de deux to large-scale pieces. Martins’s commitment to American music is evidenced by his commissioning of scores from such composers as John Adams, Wynton Marsalis, Christopher Rouse, and Charles Wuorinen. In addition to having received numerous other awards, Martins was made a Knight of The First Order of Dannebrog by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark in September of 1983.

Additional Letter of Distinction awardees Jack Beeson, Fred Ho, Meredith Monk, and the Society for New Music—joined by the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), winner of the 2010 Trailblazer Award—were honored on May 3, 2010, at the American Music Center’s Annual Meeting and Awards Ceremony at the Chelsea Art Museum. Francis Thorne, winner of our Founders Award, will receive his award at a later date.

(—Condensed from the press release)