National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Rocco Landesman has announced the recipients of the 2011 NEA Opera Honors as well as the recipients of the 2012 NEA Jazz Masters Award. This is the final year that the NEA will give awards in separate categories; in the future to replace these stand alone programs the NEA has proposed an American Artists of the Year program that will honor jazz, folk, and traditional arts, and opera, including them as part of a fuller spectrum of American art forms and artists.
NEA Opera Honors has been the highest award our nation bestows in opera and the Jazz Masters award has been the nation’s highest honor for jazz. Composer Robert Ward is among four recipients of NEA Opera Honors, along with mezzo soprano Risë Stevens, stage director John Conklin, and Seattle Opera General Director Speight Jenkins. The five 2012 Jazz Masters are Jack DeJohnette, Von Freeman, Charlie Haden, Sheila Jordan, and Jimmy Owens. Each of the nine awardees will receive a one-time award of $25,000 and will be publicly honored in awards ceremonies in the coming months—opera in October and jazz in January. These awards recognizes individuals for their lifetime achievements and significant contributions.
“These artists represent the highest level of artistic mastery and we are proud to recognize their achievements,” said Landesman. “Through their contributions, we have been challenged, enlightened, and charmed, and we thank them for devoting their careers to expanding and supporting their art forms.”
Robert Ward, a respected composer, conductor, administrator, and publishing executive, is equally admired as an academic, having served as chancellor of the North Carolina School for the Arts and as music professor at Duke University. Among his compositions are eight operas—including The Crucible, for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize—seven symphonies, three concerti, two cantata, and songs for solo voice with accompaniment. Mezzo-soprano Risë Stevens has sung many of the great mezzo roles such as Gluck’s Orpheus, Saint-Saëns’s Delilah, and the title role of Bizet’s Carmen in which she appeared at the Metropolitan Opera over 100 times. But many more fell in love with Stevens through her frequent radio appearances and through the films The Chocolate Soldier (1941) with Nelson Eddy and Going My Way (1944) with Bing Crosby. John Conklin’s conceptual design style has had an enormous influence. He is one of the principal figures in American stage design, both for opera and for theater, and his set and costume designs are seen in opera houses, theaters, and ballet companies around the world. Appointed general director of the Seattle Opera in 1983, Speight Jenkins is recognized nationally as a leading authority on opera and an accomplished arts administrator. He also is known for his prolific writing about opera through reviews and articles.
Each member of the 2012 NEA Jazz Masters class is a distinguished artist whose significant lifetime contributions have helped to enrich jazz and further the growth of the art form. Widely regarded as one of the great drummers in modern jazz, Jack DeJohnette has a wide-ranging style that makes him a dynamic sideman and bandleader. His versatility on the drums is accented by DeJohnette’s additional accomplishments as a composer and keyboardist: he studied classical piano for ten years before taking up drums. Earle Lavon “Von” Freeman, Sr. is considered a founder of the “Chicago School” of jazz tenor saxophonists. With his individual sound, at once husky and melodic, he makes every song his own. Bassist and composer Charlie Haden has embraced a variety of musical genres, ranging from jazz to country to world music. His work as an educator led to the creation of the Jazz Studies program at California Institute of the Arts in 1982 where he focuses on the spirituality of improvisation. Sheila Jordan is not only one of the premier singers in jazz, but she is known for her stimulating vocal workshops as well. A superb scat singer, she can just as easily reach the emotional depths of a ballad. Jimmy Owens is a jazz trumpeter, composer, arranger, educator, and music education consultant. His involvement as an advocate regarding the rights of jazz artists led to the founding of the Jazz Musician’s Emergency Fund, a program of the Jazz Foundation of America.
Now in its fourth year, the NEA Opera Honors have previously recognized John Adams, Martina Arroyo, Frank Corsaro, David, DiChiera, Carlisle Floyd, Richard Gaddes, Philip Glass, Marilyn Horne, James Levine, Lotfi Mansouri, Leontyne Price, Eve Queler, and Julius Rudel. The NEA Jazz Masters program, now honoring its 30th group of inductees, has conferred awards since 1982 to a total of 124 jazz luminaries, including Count Basie, George Benson, Art Blakey, Dave Brubeck, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Herbie Hancock, John Levy, Abbey Lincoln, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, Cecil Taylor, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, and the Marsalis Family. Both awards are selected from nominations submitted by the public to receive a one-time fellowship award of $25,000 and to be honored at a public awards ceremony. Awardees may additionally participate in NEA-sponsored promotional, performance, and educational activities. Only living musicians or advocates may be nominated for these honors.
—from the press releases