Considering John Adams‘s current position within the American concert music scene—Pulitzer, Grammy, and Grawemeyer award-winner, member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, holder of the Composer Chair at Carnegie Hall, recipient of numerous commissions from major orchestras and ensembles across the globe, including the New York Philharmonic-commissioned work to commemorate the events of September 11th—it is perhaps most fitting that Bay-area composer be named the inaugural winner of the $100,000 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Musical Composition, an award designed to honor a composer who “has significantly contributed to the direction of contemporary composition” based on his or her entire body of work, not just a select piece.
Adams was cited by the anonymous, three-member selection committee for “his fusing of a wide range of styles into a voice entirely new and distinctive, and for his connection to and reflection of the world around us,” the latter perhaps a direct reference to Adams’s groundbreaking and sometimes controversial works with ties current political events and recent history such as The Death of Klinghoffer, Nixon in China, I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky, and Pulitzer Prize-winning On the Transmigration of Souls. In addition to the cash award, he receives a performance of one of his works by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra during the 2005-2006 season and will serve a residency at Northwestern University School of Music.
When the announcement was made Adams commented that he was “tremendously honored” to receive the award and noted that he is especially looking forward to the residency aspect of the prize, as “spending significant time with students is something I have missed very much in recent years.”
Northwestern University administers the prize (in addition to two other Nemmers prizes—the Erwin Plein Nemmers Prize in Mathematics and the Frederic E. Nemmers Prize in Economics, both awarded since 1994). Northwestern School of Music Dean Toni-Marie Montgomery expressed her support of Adams’s selection for the first Nemmers prize in music. “As one of the most performed living American composers,” Montgomery noted, “it is clear that he has captured the imagination of both musicians and audiences. His presence on our campus will be of great interest and benefit to students, faculty, and the Chicago community.”
Northwestern University President Henry S. Bienen has high hopes for the award’s future and thinks things are definitely off to strong start. “We hope that the Nemmers Prize in Musical Composition will become one of classical music’s signature honors. With the receipt of nominations of distinguished individuals throughout the world, we seem well on the way to achieving our goal.”