Andrew Norman
On Being Named Composer of the Year by Musical America

On Being Named Composer of the Year by Musical America

[Ed. note: Most of the following text was read by Andrew Norman upon accepting his Composer of the Year award from Musical America at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Terrace Room on December 8, 2016. It is reprinted here with his permission.—FJO]

Thank you so much, Musical America, for naming me Composer of the Year.

I feel completely undeserving of this award, and of all the other attention I have received recently. I have been given so much over my lifetime, and whatever success I may achieve as a composer is due to the many people who have shaped me in profound ways: my parents, my teachers, my collaborators, my publisher, and my amazing fiancé Alex.

I have been blessed with way more than my fair share of opportunities in this field, way more chances than I deserve to cultivate my voice, to grow as a musician, and to learn from great artists and mentors. I’ve also, and perhaps most importantly, been given the opportunity to fail, to fail repeatedly, and to fail in public, and I’m so grateful for that. I want to thank all of you for allowing me to fail, for allowing me to take risks, for allowing me to push myself and for supporting me throughout the process. This means the world to me.

I can’t help but feel that this gift of failure also puts me in an incredibly privileged position. I think about all the composers who have not been granted the same good fortune that I have, composers who don’t get the chance to fail because they don’t get the chance at all, and I wonder what we as a community can do about it.

We all in this room have the power to shape what classical music is and will be for future generations. We are not just the inheritors and interpreters of a tradition, we are also the definers of that tradition, and we have a responsibility to pass on an art form that is broader, more inclusive, and more socially engaged than the one we inherited.

So to those of you in this room, particularly those of you involved in the highest levels of the symphony orchestra world: The next time you program another 19th century symphony or concerto or overture, because it’s there, because it’s a good piece, because it’s familiar and your audience will sit politely through it: just think about what you are giving up by doing so. You are giving up the chance to say something meaningful, important, thought-provoking, necessary, and specific about our own time. You are giving up the chance to give voice to a person, an experience, a point of view that we don’t already have in the concert hall. You are giving up the chance to make the canon we will pass on less white, less male, less Euro-centrically homogeneous, and more representative of the diverse, multi-faceted world in which we live.

The music of the past is undoubtedly transformative, powerful, and amazing; it is one of the great legacies of Western civilization, and it deserves and demands to be heard for generations to come, but I wonder sometimes if we aren’t sacrificing this art form’s future in order to preserve its storied past.

I believe that the most amazing masterpieces of classical music the world has ever known have yet to be written. I believe there are Mozarts and Beethovens born every day, and it is our foremost responsibility as musical citizens to find them, to cultivate them, to give them plenty of opportunities to succeed and to fail, and ultimately to let them take the art form to places we cannot yet imagine.

Thank you so much Musical America for this incredible honor. I hope I do you proud.

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6 thoughts on “On Being Named Composer of the Year by Musical America

  1. Tony

    Classical orchestras are not programming 21st century art “music” for the simple fact that 21st century art “music” is only considered to be “music” by a very small group of composers and performers. To EVERYONE else in the world, it is considered noise; self-indulgent, disjointed, garbled, atonal and un-rhythmical noise that anyone with a basic understanding of music theory and orchestration could duplicate with their eyes literally shut. No one is popping a CD of this composer’s work into their car stereos and humming along while they drive, nor are classical radio stations eager to lose advertising revenue as a result of subjecting supporting listeners to the cacophony of sounds that only the mentally disturbed could possibly appreciate (NPR learned this the hard way). Furthermore, orchestras are going to program what their subscribers want to hear. Subscribers want to hear classical orchestras play classical music. They don’t want to hear avante-garde, minimalist noise that could be played just as handily by a 6th grade band as it is by a professional orchestra.

    The knee-jerk defense for art “music” has always been “music evolves, and this is the next step”. Wrong. The 20th and 21st centuries have witnessed a devolution and stagnation of the genre, which has marginalized it deep beneath alternate forms that stayed true to the basic tonal language that had been in place for nearly 500 years. And so now composers of noise complain about being marginalized in favor of tonal music. Perhaps if they would compose tonal music….professional orchestras might actually play it.

    1. Austin

      I very much assure you that composers of tonal music are not being played by orchestras either. Unless of course you consider minimalists non-tonal noisemakers, in which case I believe you will have to provide a clearer definiton of noise.

    2. Paul Muller

      “History has shown that those who set themselves up as arbiters of ‘proper art’ are wrong, almost 100% of the time. Consider as the prime example, the Impressionists, who set themselves up because the museums and ‘art experts’ of their day refused their products.” (Damar Minyak)

  2. Gregory Kyle

    I admire AN’s humility, and congratulate him for this prestigious award, but found his comment about race and sex uncomfortable and awkward ( “less white, less male, less euro-centric…”). Orchestral programming of living composers will automatically be more diverse since it will reflect our evolving demographics. But I don’t see it as a victory *per se* that any race or sex should be less represented in the concert hall.


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