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Ever since Pulitzer Prize Administrator Dana Canedy announced Kendrick Lamar’s win in the music category a bit after 3 p.m. on Monday, news outlets and social media have been alight with hot takes and existential reflections. As the first artist working outside the classical-ish field (with a couple more recent nods to jazz) to snag the prize, the selection of Lamar’s album DAMN. seems to have signaled a lot, both in terms of the parameters of the Pulitzer itself going forward and regarding some larger cultural shifts when it comes to art and gatekeeping.
What Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer Means for Hip-Hop (The New Yorker) Doreen St. Félix considers how Lamar’s historic milestone—becoming the first hip-hop artist to win a Pulitzer Prize for music—figures in the grander, affected consecration of blackness within élite spaces.
Partita for 8 Voices by Caroline Shaw has been awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Music. The 26-minute four-movement work composed between 2009-2012 was recorded by the vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth for New Amsterdam Records (released on October 30, 2012). 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. The jury described Shaw’s composition as “a highly polished and inventive a cappella work uniquely embracing speech, whispers, sighs, murmurs, wordless melodies and novel vocal effects.”
The fourth and final movement (Passacaglia) of Caroline Shaw’s Partita for 8 Voices performed by A Roomful of Teeth from the June 2009 premiere at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
Also nominated as finalists in this category were Aaron Jay Kernis’s Pieces of Winter Sky (published by Associated Music Publishers, Inc.), premiered on November 15, 2012 at Lincoln Theater, University of Hartford, CT, a luminous work that takes listeners into a mystical realm marked by taut expressive control and extraordinarily subtle changes of tone, texture and nuance; and Wadada Leo Smith’s Ten Freedom Summers, recording released May 22, 2012 on Cuneiform Records, an expansive jazz work that memorializes 10 key moments in the history of civil rights in America, fusing composed and improvised passages into powerful, eloquent music.
Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded annually since 1919. The Music Prize was added in 1943 when William Schuman’s Secular Cantata No. 2, “A Free Song” received the first honor. Past prize winning works include Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring (1945), Charles Ives’s Symphony No. 3 (1947, awarded 30 years after its composition), Samuel Barber’s opera Vanessa (1958), Elliott Carter’s String Quartets Nos. 2 (1960) and 3 (1973), Charles Wuorinen’s electronic music composition Time’s Encomium, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Symphony No. 1 – Three Movements for Orchestra (1983), Wynton Marsalis’s oratorio Blood on the Fields (1997), John Adams’s On The Transmigration of Souls (2003), Ornette Coleman’s recording Sound Grammar (2007), and Jennifer Higdon’s Violin Concerto (2010).
As is the case with all Pulitzer prize-winners, the awarded pieces of music are chosen through a two panel process. Each year a different jury (consisting of five professionals in the field and which usually includes at least one previous winner of the award) is convened and selects a total of three finalists from works received for consideration. (Anyone–not only the composer or publisher of the work–can submit a work provided it is accompanied by a $50 entry fee and meets the qualifications of being composed by an American and having had its first performance or recording in the United States during the previous calendar year.) The three finalists are then submitted to the 20-member Pulitzer board, consisting mostly of major newspaper editors and executives as well as a few academics. (The board elects its own members who individually serve three-year terms.) The winner is determined by a majority vote of the board. It is possible for the jury not to choose any of the finalists–as was the case for the Music award in the years 1964, 1965, and 1981 resulting in no prize being given. The board can also demand that the jury selects a different work, as was the case in 1992 when the only work the jury submitted to the board was Ralph Shapey’s Concerto Fantastique. (The work which was ultimately awarded the prize that year was Wayne Peterson’s The Face of the Night.)
The jurors for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Music were: Jeremy Geffen, director, artistic planning, Carnegie Hall, New York City (Chair); Muhal Richard Abrams, pianist and composer, New York City; Gerald Levinson, Jane Lang Professor of Music, department of music and dance, Swarthmore College; Carol Oja, William Powell Mason Professor of Music, Harvard University; and Howard Reich, jazz critic, Chicago Tribune.
For most Americans, the big news of the day is the deadline for filing income tax returns. I grew up around the corner from New York City’s General Post Office and every year on April 15 it was quite a scene there—various fringe protests, representatives from pharmaceutical companies handing out free aspirin tablets, tax-themed buskers performing in a variety of musical genres. Undoubtedly in the era of online filing, it’s probably not quite the party it once was, but I imagine that no matter how you choose to file, and even if you filed early or are filing an extension, at some point today you will be thinking about taxes. However, today also marks another important annual American tradition—the Pulitzer Prizes.
It has been something of a NewMusicBox ritual every year on a designated Monday in April to strive to be the first media outlet with detailed news about the winner of the annual music prize. Up until now, we have succeeded. The ubiquity of instantaneous information transmission via social media means that sooner or later we will inevitably lose this race, but I’m still in it until we do—as Alex Gardner wryly quipped last week, it’s my personal version of the Kentucky Derby. But in case you want to try to beat me at the game—here’s how to play: at promptly 3:00 p.m. EDT at the Journalism Building at Columbia University, the staff for the Pulitzer Prizes will hand out sealed envelopes to attendees at a press conference containing the list of winners. Minutes thereafter, the information is updated on the Pulitzer website. There is no advance warning, not even to the prize winners. I’ve often been the first call the music winner has received about winning the prize! I’ve followed numerous prizes over the years and upon several occasions I’ve had the information in advance with a strict embargo, but never for the Pulitzers. It’s remarkably old school and extraordinary that, in this day and age, it has yet to leak before the designated hour.
It might seem odd, considering how I often profess a lack of belief in the notion of “best” or “greatest,” that I would be so captivated by these awards year after year. Part of it is because of the attention the award garners in nationwide media. Since the majority of the Pulitzer Prizes are for journalism, every newsroom has a vested interest in them and publishes a report about them. As a result, the additional non-journalism-related Pulitzer Prizes—like those for drama, fiction, poetry, and music—get almost guaranteed national coverage, too. It is one of the rare times that a composer can get his or her name in newspapers all over the country. So I like the PR aspect of it. The other part, I have to confess, is that Alex is right—it is my Kentucky Derby. I don’t really follow physical sports, so this is the one time each year that I can get a similar adrenaline rush from the surprise. See you at 3!
Frank J. Oteri
Frank J. Oteri is an ASCAP-award winning composer and music journalist. Among his compositions are Already Yesterday or Still Tomorrow for orchestra, the "performance oratorio" MACHUNAS, the 1/4-tone sax quartet Fair and Balanced?, and the 1/6-tone rock band suite Imagined Overtures. His compositions are represented by Black Tea Music. Oteri is the Vice President of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) and is Composer Advocate at New Music USA where he has been the Editor of its web magazine, NewMusicBox.org, since its founding in 1999.
Apr 15, 2013
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