Anthony Davis’s opera The Central Park Five has been awarded the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Music. The annually awarded $15,000 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 year. The opera, featuring a libretto by Richard Wesley, received a New Music USA grant for commission fees in 2015 and received its premiere on June 15, 2019 at the Long Beach Opera. It is described in the Pulitzer citation as “a courageous operatic work, marked by powerful vocal writing and sensitive orchestration, that skillfully transforms a notorious example of contemporary injustice into something empathetic and hopeful.”
“That’s pretty far out!” exclaimed Davis (b. 1951) when reached by telephone minutes after the award was announced. “I never thought I’d get a Pulitzer for a piece with Trump on the toilet. I’m thrilled and excited. I’d like to thank Long Beach Opera and all the people involved with the production. It was such an incredible project.”
The announcement of this year’s Pulitzer Prizes, originally scheduled for April 20 in the Columbia University Journalism Building but delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was made online by Pulitzer Prize Administrator Dana Canedy from her living room via a stream posted on the Pulitzer website and on YouTube.
Also nominated as finalists for the 2020 music prize were: Sky, a violin concerto by Michael Torke (b. 1961), premiered on January 5, 2019, in Troy, N.Y. by Tess Lark with the Albany Symphony conducted by David Alan Miller, which is described in the jury citation as “a virtuosic work of astonishing beauty, expert pacing and generous optimism”; and and all the days were purple by Alex Weiser (b. 1989), a song cycle for voice, piano, percussion and string trio, based on poems in Yiddish and English, released on April 12, 2019 by Cantaloupe Music, which is described in the citation as “a meditative and deeply spiritual work whose unexpected musical language is arresting and directly emotional.”
“Recognition is so hard to come by these days so I feel very grateful for the support,” said Michael Torke. “I owe such a debt to Tessa Lark, who guided me in the Bluegrass style and who performed it so magnificently.”
“It’s such an honor to have my work acknowledged in this way,” added Alex Weiser. “It’s humbling to be mentioned alongside the great artists recognized by the Pulitzer Prize, many of whom are heroes of mine.”
The jury for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Music was: William C. Banfield (Chair), Professor of Liberal Arts & Africana Studies, Music and Society, Berklee College of Music; Jon Batiste, Bandleader/Musician, New York City; David Bloom, Conductor, Co-Artistic Director, Contemporaneous; Kevin Puts, Professor of Composition, Peabody Institute and Johns Hopkins University, and winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music (for his opera Silent Night); and William Trafka, Former Director of Music, St. Bartholomew’s Church, New York City.
In addition, the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Drama was awarded to the musical A String Loop featuring music, book, and lyrics by Michael R. Jackson. One of the other finalists for that award was another musical, Soft Power, featuring book and lyrics by David Henry Hwang and music by Jeanine Tesori.