Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Pulitzer Prizes I Actually Appreciate

A larger update on Sam is in the works, but I couldn't help but comment on the new Pulitzer Prize's that were handed out yesterday. In general I tend to not pay attention to whomever receives the Pulitzer in music. They've had an amazing track record for giving awards to composers I find boring and pieces that are bland in the worst sense of the word. I even often joke with Joy by labeling pieces I don't like "Pulitzer music." It's been a handy code for the past few years, but I might have to revise my nomenclature.

Yesterday, the Pulitzer went to David Lang, one of a trio of composers who collectively founded the Bang on a Can Festival in order to just get their music (and other music they admired) heard. I've admired Lang's music and perspective since hearing him talk at U of I many years ago, and have long found Child to be a beautiful, fascinating piece of music that you slowly dig into and wrap around yourself like a quilt to better see and feel its intricacies.

He won for his The Little Match Girl Passion, a commission from Carnegie Hall that premiered last October. In it, he took the Hans Christian Andersen's story, which he saw as religious allegory, and placed its heroine in Jesus's place in a traditional passion setting. He was inspired by Bach's St. Matthew's Passion and wanted to recreate that sense of musical intimacy and grandeur. That he did so with only four singers who also play percussion instruments as accompaniment is remarkable. You can hear the entire 30 minute work here and listen to an NPR story from yesterday afternoon here. I've been listening to it this morning and am stunned by the emotional power he pulls from such minimal material. I'm also stunned that I'm writing these words about a Pulitzer winner. I guess I'm now open for a new disparaging musical term.


Liz said...

Something funny - when I was in grad school at UT, as a theory student, I went to dinner one night with a whole lot of students, some theory, some composition. Amongst the group was a young man from the comp department, who ended up sitting by me when we got a table. I had never met him. We were talking briefly about what I was studying, and I was talking about how I really like to compose choral music, but I couldn't seem to get any published. He gave me a few tips on catching a publisher's eye. I found out later that young man was an artist-in-residence for the comp department, was teaching composition, and had won a Pulitzer. I thought he was a student. Talk about feeling stupid. I had no idea. And the even sadder part is - I can't remember his name now.

Andrew said...

That's completely something I would do. It also points to something interesting about the Pulitzer - those composers who win it are usually very good at getting published and getting commissions.

Liz said...

OK I guess I'm wrong about his winning a pulitzer because I just reviewed a list through 2001, and I didn't recognize any of the names. It must have been some other award. Either that, or it was a rumor. =)