Composer Ezra Laderman has been elected president of The American Academy of Arts and Letters, according to an official announcement issued on February 7. Presidents of the Academy, a 108 year-old institution that awards nearly one million dollars a year to artists, architects, writers, and composers, are elected to a single three-year term by the institution’s 250 members comprising inducted artists, architects, writers, and composers. Laderman is only the sixth composer ever elected to this position.
“It was totally unexpected!” beamed Laderman. “The Academy is an organization that I believe in totally, and I hope to be able to do things that will be valuable for the arts. We shall see in three years whether I have. I would like to involve the Academy in a multi-year program that will address the state of the arts in this country in its totality—from the creative viewpoint which is at a very high level to the audience end of it which could be much better than it is. We need to find a way to make potential audiences more aware of the extraordinary creative work that is going on today; this begins in kindergarten and in the family.”
As the Academy’s president, Laderman will preside over the annual awards ceremony and all board meetings. He will also serve ex-officio in all the numerous committees which determine the Academy’s various awards. Its 11-member board of directors also includes a secretary, a treasurer, and a total of eight vice presidents: three each from the literature and art departments and only two from the music department, roughly reflecting the breakdown of the membership (nearly 120 in literature, over 80 in art, and less than 50 in music). The current vice presidents in the music department are Yehudi Yyner, who has served for the past year, and Joseph Schwantner, who was newly elected along with Laderman.
Born in 1924, the Brooklyn-raised and New England-based Laderman attended Brooklyn College and Columbia University. He is currently professor of music at the Yale School of Music where he formerly served as dean. From 1972 to 1975, he served as the President of the American Music Center. He has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1991. Laderman’s 88 published musical compositions to date, which are available from G. Schirmer/Music Sales, include eight symphonies, nineteen works for soloists and orchestra, and nine string quartets, as well as works for chorus and operas. Among his most recent compositions are Brass Trio (2005) and three solo keyboard works—Beshet, Decade, and Toccata—all of which were composed in 2005. On April 18, Laderman’s first-ever two-piano work, Interior Landscapes, will receive its world premiere performance at New York’s Steinway Hall. Just one month into 2006 he has already completed a new work for two pianos entitled Suite on the Folly of Man. His music has been recorded by RCA, CRI, New World Records, Phoenix USA, and there is an ongoing series of discs devoted exclusively to his music on Albany Records.
The most recent composer elected prior to Laderman was Ned Rorem who served from 2000-03 and who was succeeded by figurative painter Philip Pearlstein whose term just ended this past January.
In his acceptance, Laderman noted that each of the earlier composer-presidents of the Academy had in some way influenced his own career. He grew up listening to a radio program hosted by the first composer elected Academy president, Walter Damrosch. Douglas Moore, the second, was his mentor at Columbia. Aaron Copland left his stamp on almost every American composer, and Laderman, who got to know Copland personally while serving as the director of the National Endowment for the Arts’ music program in the 1970s and ’80s, was no exception. The late Hugo Weisgall, a lifelong friend, also conducted a major Laderman work at Queens College. Finally, Rorem and Laderman engaged in a lively public debate on the role of the artist in society at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.