The Gospel According to John Corigliano
JC: I think the Pulitzer doomed itself sometime ago. The Pulitzer honored pieces like Appalachian Spring, the Barber Piano Concerto, Gian Carlo Menotti‘s The Saint of Bleecker Street. These are the pieces that really reached out to large audiences. Then it got narrower and narrower and narrower and narrower to the point where the pieces that have won really don’t get performed that much. And you would think the reverse would have happened. I think that’s because of bad choices and a kind of political problem that happens when people, very often the same people, run a jury too often. I think that the way to solve that is the way that Mr. Grawemeyer solved it. When I won the Grawemeyer, I went down and I spoke to him—he was still alive then—and he was very candid with me about the way that he made the selection. He said, “They’re too political, these other awards. So what we’re doing is different. We have a music jury of five quality professionals: a composer, a critic, a conductor.” Major people. And these people look at the Grawemeyer applications and they select from those. Each one selects up to three or four pieces that they think are worthy of the Grawemeyer. And then the next person selects them, but that doesn’t negate the other person’s choices. The sum total of those now goes to a lay jury that hears anonymously and picks the winner. It is impossible to be political that way. Of course, when you look at the people who’ve won the Grawemeyer, the diversity is staggering.
FJO: Well, three prizes over the last decade have gone to violin concertos though, which seems a little unusual.
JC: Yeah, but look at the difference between the people that wrote them. You’ve got Boulez winning a Grawemeyer. You’ve got Aaron Kernis, Joan Tower, [plus some] strange people you’ve never heard of, even if you’ve heard of a lot. It’s completely and absolutely worldwide. It’s not just American. And the winners are quite extraordinary and the pieces that won are pieces that are being played all over the world. It’s a much more successful way of dealing with award giving. I don’t think that the Pulitzer should be given the way it is. I think the competition should be anonymous. I think completely different people would win it if the names were taken off because a lot of it is done on relationships and names.
FJO: But now they’re trying to change the Pulitzer Prize or at least some of the perceptions about it.
JC: Instead of a real corrective, they said, “O.K., let’s just pull everything in, so we’ll be more populist.” I think they’re going too far the other way. I think what happened is that they felt bankrupt. They felt that they were too alienated from the world. They said, “Let’s include film music and jazz and everything else.” And it’s going to be a mess, I think.
FJO: American film music already has an award for excellence, the Academy Award for best film score.
JC: Not only does film music have an award, but film music is a very different thing. You’re writing for a director. I’ve done this. Film music is not developmental, it’s a minute and twenty seconds of this, thirty seconds of that. And what happens at the very end of that road is often the product of the director censoring and changing and making you change things you wrote. It is not your vision at all. It can’t be. It’s not about you. You are a service to a film. Jazz is a performance-based art form. The composition is overlaid by improvisation. So what is the composition? What is the layered improvisation? How does that work? Again, it’s another thing that there should be a Pulitzer for, maybe, but not the same Pulitzer. I’m glad I won it because when I grew up the Pulitzer was the award that every composer wanted, and I was like that too. You become a great composer when you win a Pulitzer. But I think that now it’s a completely meaningless award. By opening it up that way, it’s done a lot of damage. I don’t think anybody has asked important composers what they think of this. I think that the Pulitzer people might call a bunch of people and ask, “What do you think is wrong with our system? What would you do to change that?” I would be happy to speak with them if they wanted me to. Who elects a jury often does determine the result.