Kevin Puts Wins 2012 Pulitzer Prize

Kevin Puts

Kevin Puts; photo by J. Henry Fair

Silent Night: Opera in Two Acts by Kevin Puts has been awarded the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music. Commissioned and premiered by the Minnesota Opera in Minneapolis on November 12, 2011, and featuring a libretto by Mark Campbell, the self-published Silent Night was described by the jury as “a stirring opera that recounts the true story of a spontaneous cease-fire among Scottish, French and Germans during World War I, displaying versatility of style and cutting straight to the heart.” 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.

Very few operas have been awarded the Pulitzer Prize since the prize was established in 1943. Although Zhou Long’s opera Madame White Snake was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music last year, an opera had not previously won the Pulitzer since the year 2000 when the prize was awarded to Lewis Spratlan’s Life is a Dream and technically that award was only for the second act which had been performed in concert version. (The opera, which was actually completed in 1978, was not performed in full until the year 2010.) So in reality the previous opera to win the award prior to 2011′s Madame White Snake was Robert Ward’s The Crucible back in 1962. In the 1950s, several now frequently revived American operas were awarded the prize including Samuel Barber’s Vanessa (1958) and two by Gian-Carlo Menotti: The Consul (1950) and The Saint of Bleecker Street (1955). The sole remaining Pulitzer-winning opera was Douglas Moore’s Giants in the Earth (1951), a work which has yet to be commercially recorded.

“I hadn’t really given much thought to whether I had a chance at winning this award,” admitted Kevin Puts in a phone conversation minutes after receiving the news. “But the Minnesota Opera suggested I submit it. As soon as I started Silent Night [which is Puts's first opera], the medium of writing opera felt really natural and exciting to me and I immediately wanted to write more opera. I would not have won this award without my librettist, Mark Campbell. The prize gives me a sense of validation for the work and I hope it will lead to many other things.” (READ an article by Kevin Puts from 2010.)

Also nominated as finalists in for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music were: Tod Machover for Death and the Powers, developed by the MIT Media Lab in partnership with the American Repertory Theatre which received its American premiere in Boston, Massachusetts on March 18, 2011; and Andrew Norman for The Companion Guide to Rome, premiered on November 13, 2011 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The jurors for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music were: Chuck Owen, distinguished professor, University of South Florida, Tampa (Chair); Jeremy Geffen, director of artistic planning, Carnegie Hall, New York, NY; Jennifer Higdon, 2010 Pulitzer Prize winning composer and faculty, Curtis Institute of Music (Philadelphia, PA); Steve Smith, music editor, Time Out New York and freelance contributor, The New York Times, and Kenny Werner, jazz pianist, composer, author and composition faculty, New York University.

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