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COMPOSER AND BARD FACULTY MEMBER GEORGE TSONTAKIS WINS PRESTIGIOUS CHARLES IVES AWARD
Emily M. Darrow
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.— Within two years of receiving the Grawemeyer Award for his Violin Concerto No. 2, widely recognized as the most prestigious composition prize internationally, George Tsontakis has been awarded the world’s richest prize to a composer, the Charles Ives Living, given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Awarded every three years to an American composer of exceptional talent, the $225,000 prize is meant to free the recipient up from any salaried position for three years in order to devote time solely to composing.
“We’re delighted that George has been honored, once again, with such a prestigious prize,” said Bard College President Leon Botstein. “He is a brilliant composer and an exceptional teacher. It is richly deserved.”
Tsontakis, Distinguished Composer in Residence at Bard College, will begin the three-year term in July 2007. In accepting the award, he said, “I felt a complex mixture of emotions, a bit giddy with exhilaration, yet at almost the same moment a realization that there was a message attached to the gesture, in that a serious rededication to my work was beckoning. I am excited, and very grateful to the Academy for this wonderful gift to my music, as well as moved by my colleagues for their vote of confidence in my work. The Ives Living will impact not only the next three years but the rest of my life; I only hope that I might be able to live up to its message.”
In addition to the Ives Living and Grawemeyer Award, Tsontakis is the recipient of the award for lifetime achievement from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1995 and two Kennedy Center Friedheim awards, for String Quartet No. 4 (1989) and Perpetual Angelus (1992). A faculty member of Bard College since 2003 and of the Aspen Music School in Aspen, Colorado, since 1976, Tsontakis was the founding director of the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble from 1991 until 1998. He studied composition with Roger Sessions at The Juilliard School and conducting with Jorge Mester. His music is recorded on the Hyperion, New World, CRI, Koch, and Opus One labels. His works have been commissioned and performed by the American, Blair, Colorado, and Emerson string quartets; New York Virtuoso Singers; Aspen Wind Quintet; Orpheus; flutist Ransom Wilson; violinist Glenn Dicterow; and many other orchestras, ensembles, and musicians. Tsontakis is on the composition faculty of The Bard College Conservatory of Music.
Ezra Laderman, a composer and president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which administers the award, said, “The selection of George Tsontakis follows in the Ives Living tradition, which identifies a composer of enormous talent who is on the threshold of becoming
becoming a household name. What I’ve always admired about him is that he idealizes Beethoven in his music; in every work he includes a quote from a Beethoven work, such as the Egmont Overture or the Fifth Symphony. His music is both intellectually demanding and highly accessible, a rare and wonderful combination if you can pull it off. George does.” David Del Tredici, a member of the selection committee, said, “George Tsontakis’s music is full of heart, a quality that erases boundaries as it satisfies and enriches the soul.”
The Charles Ives Living was inaugurated in 1998 with the selection of Martin Bresnick. Chen Yi became the second winner, in 2001, and Stephen Hartke was chosen in 2004; his three-year term ends in June 2007. George Tsontakis becomes the fourth winner of the Charles Ives Living.
William Bolcom, chairman of the selection committee, and the other committee members—T. J. Anderson, Robert Beaser, David Del Tredici, and Joseph Schwantner—studied scores and recordings over a six-month period to arrive at their choice of George Tsontakis. Bolcom said, “There are a slew of awards for young composers. There aren’t nearly enough for composers who have gained a solid reputation, who are in mid-career and sorely in need of more time to compose. For the last thousand years, only a handful of composers have actually made a living from their craft. For someone like George Tsontakis, the Charles Ives Living affords precious and well-deserved time to create. It is a great boon to him and potentially to American music.” Nominations for the Academy’s awards come from the 250 members of the Academy—painters, sculptors, architects, writers, and composers; no other nominations or applications are accepted, with the exception of the Richard Rodgers Awards for Musical Theater. Academy members are not eligible to receive monetary awards.
Other Charles Ives Awards
Harmony Ives, the widow of Charles Ives, left to the Academy the royalties from her husband’s music to establish a fund for prizes in music composition. Since 1970 the Academy has given 200 Ives scholarships, and since 1983, 32 Ives fellowships. These awards continue to be given annually.
The American Academy of Arts and Letters
The American Academy of Arts and Letters, chartered by Congress, was established in 1898 to “foster, assist, and sustain an interest in literature, music, and the fine arts.” Founding members included William Merritt Chase, Kenyon Cox, Daniel Chester French, Childe Hassam, Henry James, Edward MacDowell, Theodore Roosevelt, Elihu Vedder, and Woodrow Wilson. Each year the Academy gives away just under $1 million in awards to artists, architects, writers, and composers.
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This event was last updated on 02-06-2007