Stephen Hartke Awarded Charles Ives Living



Stephen Hartke
Photo by Bob Millard

Stephen Hartke has received the Charles Ives Living which awards an American composer $225,000 over the course of three years, Philip Pearlstein, president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters announced today.

Currently professor of composition at the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California, Hartke will begin his three-year term in July 2004. In accepting this award—the largest monetary award given exclusively to an American composer—Hartke must take a leave of absence from his salaried job and devote himself exclusively to composing. He can, however, take on new commissions.

Similar to the MacArthur awards, there is no application process for the Charles Ives Living. Academy members nominate candidates who are considered by a panel of composer members. Inaugurated in 1998, the award has previously been granted to Martin Bresnick and Chen Yi. The selected winner is informed by letter.

Speaking from his home on Friday, Hartke said he immediately showed the letter to his wife at work in her studio. As you might expect, his initial reaction to the news was intense. “She says I was vibrating,” he admitted with a laugh.

Hartke is grateful to USC, which he said has been “very generous” about granting him the time off. “They’ve never had to work out a deal for a three-year leave of absence but they were able to come up with something.”

It’s already been a busy year for Hartke. Three different labels have released CDs that feature his work and his Symphony No. 3, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic with the Hilliard Ensemble as soloists, was premiered in September. He is currently at work on Boule de Suif or The Good Whore, commissioned by Glimmerglass Opera and the Institute for American Music of the Eastman School of Music (set for a summer 2006 premiere) and a work for violin and piano commissioned by the McKim Fund of the Library of Congress (scheduled for the 2004-05 season).

“[The award] is of course a tremendous boon in helping with that,” Hartke said. “I guess there’s the issue of other things that can be added to the docket and I’m still in the sort of daydreaming phase. A few other things are in discussion but otherwise I’m open.”

However Hartke chooses to use the time artistically, the selection panel spoke confidently about his abilities. Ezra Laderman, chairman of the committee (which also included Samuel Adler, John Corigliano, Yehudi Wyner, and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich— all Academy members) noted in a formal statement: “Stephen Hartke’s magnificent musicality has brought forth a series of exquisitely crafted compositions. As the recipient of the third Charles Ives Living, he is recognized as a composer of unusual gifts that exemplify what is wonderfully exciting about the music being created today.”

Hartke is committed to that work. “I feel certainly that art is an essential part of life,” he explained. “It’s a dirty job but somebody has to do it [laughs]. I guess my job is to be true to myself as an artist.”

The award’s link to Charles Ives makes it especially sweet to Hartke. “It’s very special for me to be the beneficiary of this particular award because Ives does mean a lot to me. I’ve been a fan for ages,” he acknowledged, an appreciation dating back as far as his high school days in the ’60s. “There are so many facets to his music. I think that a lot of it is that he has a good time. And the rediscovery of his music reminded us at a time when everyone was so deadly serious that you have an obligation to have a good time.”

Generally a reserved speaker when it comes to his own music, the topic of Ives ignited Hartke to speak at length. “I think your role as an artist is to have a good time and to play and to invite other people into that spirit of play with you. And I think that that’s what Ives does to a large part. Even his more transcendental music also invites you in the same way. His music hit the scene when we were all trying to justify pitches on the basis of a matrix or using procedures to generate pitches. His music was an important wake up call, a reminder that as artists we have a job to do, which is to have a good time.”

Considering Ives’s influence, it seems especially appropriate that Hartke will take up the Charles Ives Living award as commemorations of the 50th anniversary of Charles Ives’s death begin and his work is celebrated across the country.