Celebrating New Music Awards Week
Details on award recipients in the 63rd BMI Student Composer Awards, the 16th ASCAP Concert Music Awards, and the 75th American Academy of Arts and Letters Ceremonial.
It has been a week of non-stop new music-related celebrations in New York City this week. Fresh from our own NewMusicBox LIVE and New Music USA Benefit Evening (thanks again to everyone who joined us), we now have time to report on some of the other highlights.
On Monday, May 18, the BMI Foundation in collaboration with Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) announced the winners of the 63rd annual BMI Student Composer Awards. The awards were presented by BMI President Mike O’Neill, BMI Foundation President Deirdre Chadwick, and composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (who serves as the permanent chair of the Student Composer Awards) in a private ceremony at the JW Marriott Essex House Hotel, a lavish Art Deco space facing Central Park that was built in 1931. There were a total of nine awardees who received scholarship grants to be applied toward their musical education totaling $20,000. There were also two honorable mentions, which has happened rarely in the history of these awards.
Two composers—Max Michael Grafe and Daniel Silliman—tied for the William Schuman Prize, which is awarded to the most outstanding score among the submissions. Grafe and Silliman chatted with us and each other about sharing this honor.
More than 700 online applications were submitted to the competition from student composers throughout the Western Hemisphere in 2015. One of the 2015 winners, Tonia Ko, described her steadfastness in applying for this highly competitive prize. She told us that she has been submitting scores for ten consecutive years; it finally paid off.
Matthew Aaron Browne (b. 1988): Barnstorming Season for symphony orchestra
Max Michael Grafe (b. 1988): Kheir for clarinet and sinfonietta
Tonia Ko (b. 1988): Blue Skin of the Sea for solo marimba
Thomas Kotcheff (b. 1988): that in shadow or moonlight rises for mixed octet
Joseph Meland (b. 1993): FAUVE for chamber orchestra and rock band
Avik Sarkar (b. 2001): Mirror for chamber symphony
Daniel Silliman (b. 1993): strain for cello and orchestra
Patricia Wallinga (b. 1994): Dreams in War Time for tenor voice and piano
Benjamin P. Wenzelberg (b. 2000): Maelström for orchestra
Sarkar additionally received the Carlos Surinach Prize, an annual award given to the youngest winner in the competition. Imágenes de Guanajuato, a composition for cello and guitar by Luis M. Ruelas Romo, a 23-year-old student at New England Conservatory, and Prelude and Tricotee for violin and piano by Lauren Vandervelden, a 15-year-old private music student in Boise, Idaho, received honorable mention. (Sarkar and Vandervelden’s pieces also received Honorable Mention in the 2015 Morton Gould Awards.)
On Wednesday, May 20, the American Academy of Arts and Letters held its Ceremonial in the 730-seat auditorium of the second of the three landmarked Beaux Arts buildings it owns in northern Manhattan. An annual tradition since 1942 (the very first ceremonial took place in 1941 on the main stage of Carnegie Hall but it has taken place in their own 156th Street space since the year following), the event is one of the few times in American cultural life that visual artists, poets, novelists, and composers share a stage to honor achievements in a broad range of disciplines. And the reception following the Ceremonial, which—when it’s not raining, and sometimes even when it is (luckily for once it wasn’t!)—is one of the great spring parties in New York City, was a great opportunity for people across disciplines and generations to connect with one another.
The coming together of these disparate artistic practices felt even more meaningful during this year’s event because several of the awards in one discipline were announced by practitioners of other disciplines; this was perhaps most poignant when composer John Harbison presented a Gold Medal, the Academy’s highest honor, to poet Louise Glück, whose verse he has set to music three times thus far–in one of the movements of his Symphony No. 5 for soprano, baritone, and orchestra (2007), The Seven Ages for mezzo-soprano and Pierrot sextet (2008), and most recently in his 2013 composition Crossroads for soprano, oboe, and strings. Composer Yehudi Wyner, who is the academy’s current president, described how difficult it has been to build bridges between the artistic disciplines but stated that it is something the academy has been steadfast in its efforts to do.
Finally, ASCAP presented its 16th annual Concert Music Awards on the stage of Merkin Concert Hall on Thursday, May 21. The centerpiece of the ceremony was the formal presentation—by composers Charles Fussell, James Matheson, Lisa Bielewa, and Paul Moravec along with ASCAP’s Cia Toscanini and Michael Spudic—of the 2015 Morton Gould Young Composer Awards which were announced in March (and can be found here). Brief excerpts from recordings of award-winning pieces by each of the composers who were present were played.
We spoke with several of the composers who were in attendance about their award-winning compositions. Scott Lee from Durham, North Carolina, and Paris Lavidis from New York City, described their very different approaches—Lee, in his Bottom Heavy for small ensemble, incorporates hip-hop grooves and other popular music elements whereas Lavidis explores extended techniques in what he describes as a “semi-tonal realm” in his String Quartet No. 2:
James Kendrick, president of Schott/European American Music, presented Brian Heim with this year’s Leo Kaplan Award, which has been given annually since 1995 to the composer of the score judged “most outstanding” in ASCAP’s Young Composer Awards. Heim’s award-winning piece, Two Portraits After Moby Dick, was inspired by the classic Herman Melville novel as he explained to us: