The Netherlands-based Praemium Erasmianum Foundation has awarded its 2019 Erasmus Prize to American composer and conductor John Adams. It is the first time in the 61-year history of the award that it has been given to an American composer and only the third time that a composer has received it. According to the website of the foundation, the € 150,000 prize is given “annually to a person or institution that has made an exceptional contribution to the field of humanities, social sciences or the arts.” The theme for this year’s Erasmus Prize is “composing for today” and as per the words of the citation:
John Adams is one of the most frequently performed living composers. He receives the prize because he has created a new musical idiom by fusing elements from jazz, pop and classical music. According to the jury, Adams has made contemporary classical music ‘communicate’ again, important at a time when this genre has increasing difficulty in finding a following. Moreover, Adams often addresses social themes in his work, something he sees as the artist’s duty. What distinguishes him furthermore, is the humanistic nature of his themes. Adams is not just a great conductor and composer, he is also a writer who reflects on the social function of classical music. Thus, he calls attention both musically and intellectually to the importance of classical music in our time, reflecting the Erasmian principles that the Foundation seeks to uphold.
The Praemium Erasmianum Foundation is a Dutch cultural institution founded in 1958 by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands which is dedicated to strengthening the fields of humanities, social sciences and the arts. The current patron of the foundation is King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands. Previous Erasmus Prize laureates include Russian-French painter Marc Chagall (1960), filmmakers Charles Chaplin and Ingmar Bergman (1965), British sculptor Henry Moore (1968), French composer Olivier Messiaen (1971), Swiss pschologist Jean Piaget (1972), French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss (1973), Amnesty International (1976), historically-informed performance pioneers Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt (1980), Czech playwright and subsequent leader Václav Havel (1986), Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink (1991), Austrian Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal (1992), Italian architect Renzo Piano (1995), Argentinian-born German composer Mauricio Kagel and frequent Adams collaborator Peter Sellars (1998), former Irish president Mary Robinson (1999), educator José Antonio Abreu (2010), the Wikipedia Community (2015), British novelist A. S. Byatt (2016), and American author Barbara Ehrenreich (2018). In November 2019, a varied program of cultural and academic events related to John Adams’s work will be scheduled around the official award ceremony.