The Grawemeyer Award is one of the worlds most prestigious prizes for music composition, and Columbia has more Grawemeyer Awardwinning alumni than any other university in the world.
The Grawemeyer is a big deal because its international in scope, it honors just one composer each year, and its worth $200,000 (increased from $150,000 in 2000). Perhaps just as significant is the philosophy behind the award: its benefactor, H. Charles Grawemeyer, wanted his initial endowment of $9 million to go toward honoring ideas rather than lifetime achievement: He said that great ideas should be accessible to people with general knowledge and not be the private treasure of academics.
In the last thirteen years, more than a half-million dollars in Grawemeyer money has gone to composers who are Columbia alumniChinary Ung 74SOA in 1989 for his orchestral tone poem Inner Voices, Joan Tower 65GSAS 78SOA in 1990 for her three-part orchestral work Silver Ladders, John Corigliano 59C in 1991 for his renowned Symphony No. 1, subtitled Of Rage and Remembrance, and Tan Dun 93SOA in 1998 for his opera Marco Polo.
In 1896, the preeminent American composer Edward Alexander MacDowell became the first professor in Columbias new Department of Musicone of the first of its kind in the country. During the next half century, the department would welcome many other extraordinary composers, including Douglas Moore 63HON, Henry Cowell, Otto Luening 80HON, and Jack Beeson, who would become the MacDowell Professor of Music in 1965. (Composer and former music department chair George Edwards currently holds the MacDowell professorship.)
The great Hungarian composer Béla Bartók 40HON was at Columbia from 1941 to 1942 to transcribe a collection of Serbo-Croatian folk melodies; he later left much of his work from that decade to Columbias music library, now the Gabe M. Wiener Music and Arts Library.
One of Luenings many gifted students was Marvin David Levy 56GSAS, now a distinguished opera composer. Levys adaptation of Eugene ONeills Mourning Becomes Electracommissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, where it premiered in 1967is widely regarded as a masterpiece of American opera. Levy has composed several orchestral, choral, and chamber works, but is known primarily for his operas, which also include The Tower, a comic biblical fable; Sotoba Komachi, based on a Japanese Noh play; and Escorial, based on the tragicomedy of Michel de Ghelderode.
Experiments in electroacoustic music
Chamber music and disco collages
Wuorinen, who has composed more than 200 works and has been recorded on nearly a dozen labels, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for his electronic composition Times Encomium and was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 1986. His opera based on Salman Rushdies Haroun and the Sea of Stories will premiere at the New York City Opera this fall. During his time on the Columbia faculty, Wuorinen taught Eve Beglarian 83GSAS and influenced the early serial work of Joan Tower.
Tower, whose Silver Ladders won the Grawemeyer Award, is currently composer-in-residence with the Orchestra of St. Lukes in New York City and is also the Asher B. Edelman Professor of Music at Bard College. Along with National Endowment for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, and Guggenheim Foundation fellowships, she also has received commissions from the Koussevitsky, Fromm, Jerome, and Naumburg foundations. Her most recent recording is Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman (Koch International Classics 1999) with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.
Columbia professors Chou Wen-chung of China and Mario Davidovsky of Argentina have served as beacons to Columbia for composers from around the world.
Davidovsky won the Pulitzer in 1971 for Synchronisms No. 6 for Piano and Electronic Sound. He taught many of todays most successful Columbia alumni composers during his tenure from 1960 to 1993, including Pablo Ortiz 86GSAS 92SOA, who traveled to New York from Argentina to study with Davidovsky. Ortiz currently is on the faculty at the University of California at Davis. He was named a Charles Ives Fellow by the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1996 and received a Koussevitzky commission in 1999. His works include chamber and solo music, as well as vocal, orchestral, and electronic compositions.
Students of Chou Wen-chung
Sheng, a professor at the University of Michigan, has received many prizes in China and the U.S. Last year, he became the fifth composer to be named a MacArthur Fellow since the advent of the program in 1981. The award gives him an unrestricted fellowship of $500,000 over five years. Major ensembles and soloists around the world have performed his music, which bridges East and West, lyrical and dissonant styles, and historical and contemporary themes. His first full-length opera, Madame Mao, will be presented at the Santa Fe Opera in 2003. His best known work is the critically acclaimed Hun (Lacerations): In Memoriam 196676, a dramatic orchestral portrait of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
Tan, who also grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution, is fulfilling a commission for the Metropolitan Opera, to premiere in 2005. His Grawemeyer-winning opera, Marco Polo, was named Opera of the Year by the German magazine Oper, which also named him Composer of the Year in 1996. The New York Times named him Classical Musician of the Year in 1997. His score for the acclaimed film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won the 2001 Oscar and a Grammy Award in 2002, and his work has been performed by leading orchestras across North America, Europe, and Asia.
Other former students of Chous include Chen Yi and her husband, Zhou Long. Chen is the first woman to have earned a masters degree in music composition in China. In 2000, she received a Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which awards her $225,000 over three years. She won the first prize at the China National Composition Competition, the Lili Boulanger Award from the Womens Philharmonic, and grants from the Koussevitzky, Fromm, Ford, and Rockefeller foundations. Some of her signature works include an octet, Sparkle, and sextet, Near Distance.
A work that Zhou was commissioned to write for the Tokyo Philharmonic premiered last fall and he is working on a commission for the upcoming Ireland Music Festival. A recording that featured works by both Zhou and Chen entitled Colors of Love by the classical vocal ensemble Chanticleer won a Grammy Award in 1999.
These are just a few of the extraordinary Columbia alumni composers making important contributions to serious contemporary music here in New York, across the country, and around the world.