Madame White Snake by Zhou Long has been awarded the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in Music. Madame White Snake, which premiered on February 26, 2010, by the Boston Opera at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, was described by the jury as “a deeply expressive opera that draws on a Chinese folk tale to blend the musical traditions of the East and the West.” The libretto is by Cerise Lim Jacobs and the work is published by Oxford University Press. The prize is for a “distinguished musical composition by an American that has had its first performance or recording in the United States” during the previous calendar year and comes with a cash award of ten thousand dollars. (In 2006, NewMusicBox published an extensive conversation with Zhou Long and his wife, composer Chen Yi.)
Opera Boston’s preview trailer for Madame White Snake
Soprano Ying Huang sings “Awakening Aria” from Zhou Long’s Madame White Snake accompanied by pianist Ken Noda.
Also nominated as finalists for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in Music were Fred Lerdahl for Arches, premiered on November 19, 2010 at Miller Theatre, Columbia University, a consistently original concerto that sustains an extraordinary level of sensuous invention as it evolves from one moment to the next; and Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon for Comala, recording released in June, 2010 by Bridge Records, an ambitious cantata that translates into music an influential work of Latin American literature, giving voice to two cultures that intersect within the term “America.”
The first musical composition to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize was William Schuman’s Secular Cantata No. 2: A Free Song in 1943. Since then, the prize has been awarded annually with the exception of the years 1953, 1964, and 1965. Among the works so honored over the decades are Aaron Copland’s ballet score for Appalachian Spring, Charles Ives’s Symphony No. 3, Virgil Thomson’s film score for Louisiana Story, Robert Ward’s opera The Crucible, Charles Wuorinen’s electronic music composition Time’s Encomium, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Three Movements for Orchestra, George Perle’s Wind Quintet No. 4, Wynton Marsalis’s oratorio Blood on the Fields, and John Adams’s On the Transmigration of Souls. Only four composers have ever received the accolade more than once: Gian Carlo Menotti, for the operas The Consul and The Saint of Bleecker Street; Samuel Barber, for the opera Vanessa and his Piano Concerto; Walter Piston, for his Third and Seventh Symphonies; and Elliott Carter for his Second and Third String Quartets. The most recent winners of the prize have been Jennifer Higdon’s Violin Concerto (2010), Steve Reich’s Double Sextet (2009), David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion (2008), and Ornette Coleman’s Sound Grammar (2007).
The jurors for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in Music were: Delta David Gier, music director, South Dakota Symphony, Sioux Falls (chair); Anne Midgette, classical music critic, The Washington Post; George Lewis, composer, professor of American music, Columbia University; Paul Moravec, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, University Professor of Music, Adelphi University, Long Island, NY; and William Banfield, composer, Berklee College of Music, Boston, MA.