Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Audra McDonald Named Musician of the Year
George Benjamin, Pablo Heras-Casado, Jeremy Denk,
and International Contemporary Ensemble
Recognized as Composer, Conductor, Instrumentalist, and Ensemble of the Year

NEW YORK, N.Y. Nov. 5 -- Musical America, now in its third century as the indispensable resource for the performing arts, today announced the winners of the annual Musical America Awards, recognizing artistic excellence and achievement in the arts.

The announcement precedes the December publication of the 2014 Musical America International Directory of the Performing Arts, which, in addition to its comprehensive industry listings, pays homage to each of these artists in its editorial pages.

The annual Musical America Awards will be presented in a special ceremony at Lincoln Center on Tuesday, December 17.

Photo: © Jennifer Taylor

Audra McDonald  is unparalleled in the breadth and versatility of her artistry as both singer and actress. She is fearless, vocally and physically. Her immediately recognizable soprano is rich, flexible, and incandescent, with a huge dynamic range, equally persuasive as silk or gravel, belt or whisper. It's also genre-bending, since she can sing across the spectrum, from opera to blues, pop to gospel. She is what Barbara Cook  calls "the whole package."

Among numerous accolades, she has received five Tony Awards, the first of which she won at only 23 for her performance as Carrie Pipperidge in Nicholas Hytner's legendary production of Carousel (1994) at Lincoln Center. Other musicals were Ragtime (1998) and The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess (2012). Two of her Tonys are for performances in dramatic productions: Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun (2004) and Terrence McNally's Masterclass (1996), where her role as a vocal student required her to sing a Verdi aria in every performance. This Juilliard School graduate relishes acting without the support of music and she approaches every role, musical or non-musical, even every song, precisely the same way. It's all about character, she tells Katrine Ames in Musical America's tribute, and something she can connect to: "Who is this person? What does she want? What truth am I trying to convey?"

Truth is the theme of her latest, and most personal, Nonesuch album, Go Back Home. Released earlier this year, it marks her first solo disc in seven years, with many of its songs figuring in her current 22-city North American concert tour. She also continues in her second season as official host of Live from Lincoln Center on PBS. On December 5th, she will appear as the Mother Abbess in a live television broadcast of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music on NBC.

George Benjamin began studies at age 15 with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire. His first orchestral work, Ringed by the Flat Horizon, was written at 20 and conducted by Pierre Boulez. A spectacular career ensued, with works for varied instrumental combinations creating rich textures and harmonic beauty. His sharp ear for poetry and precision was thrillingly revealed in his 2012 opera, Written on Skin, premiered at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, and available on a Nimbus CD set and DVD. In nearly 40 international performances, it has received universal praise. The piece tells one of the oldest stories in the world, a triangular tale of sexual curiosity, rhapsodic love, and violent jealousy. But it does so in a language all its own, at once exquisitely wrought and devastatingly raw. When Written on Skin received its U.S. premiere in concert at Tanglewood's Festival of Contemporary Music in August, Jeremy Eichler in the Boston Globe called it a "complexly beautiful 21st-century score, one that carries forward the worlds of Debussy and Berg without surrendering to either one." That performance was recorded by the Festival and will receive its world webcast premiere on New York's Q2 Music--WQXR's online music station devoted to new music--on Tuesday, November 5, at 8 p.m. ET. A music stream will be available at www.wqxr.org/q2music for six months following the initial webcast.

Photo: © Steve J. Sherman


Pablo Heras-Casado, only 36, has made first appearances with nearly 40 orchestras, opera companies, and festivals. The charismatic Spaniard makes his Metropolitan Opera debut this month, conducting Verdi's Rigoletto, and appears this season for the first time with the leading orchestras of New York, Philadelphia, London, and Leipzig. In addition to his subscription-concert debut in New York, he will lead a pair of concerts largely devoted to music by Pierre Boulez and George Benjamin in the orchestra's new "biennial" contemporary series. His repertory is vast, embracing the very new as well as the very old, and as principal conductor of New York's Orchestra of St. Luke's he concentrates on such standard composers as Schubert and Mendelssohn, whose music he leads on his first Harmonia Mundi recordings.
Photo: © Richard Termine


Jeremy Denk has been called "one of his generation's most eloquent and thoughtful interpreters" (New York Times). His flourishing concert schedule, the second release in his Nonesuch recording contract (Bach's Goldberg Variations), his widely read blog called "Think Denk," and articles for the New Yorker, which led to a Random House book commission, attest to his multi-faceted artistry. As music director for the 68th annual Ojai Music Festival in 2014, he will not only perform on piano but also write his first opera libretto in collaboration with composer Steven Stucky, based on the late Charles Rosen's The Classical Style. In September, Denk was named a 2013 MacArthur Fellow. Popularly known as a "genius award," it is presented to "an extraordinary group of individuals who collectively reflect the breadth and depth of American creativity" and involves a stipend of $625,000.

Photo: © Jennifer Taylor
The International Contemporary Ensemble, popularly known as ICE, has distinguished itself from the many excellent new-music groups in several ways. For starters, it has avoided being typecast in any particular contemporary style and performs yearly at Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival. Since its founding in 2001, ICE has performed over 500 works, most of them by emerging composers. The ensemble has released albums on the Bridge, Naxos, and Nonesuch labels, among others, and launched its own label, Tundra. It has its own educational program, aimed at instructing students in the challenges of ensemble performance. ICE aspires to reaching millions of people a year, live and online. "We talk regularly about how fun it would be to play in outer space," says ICE founder Claire Chase, a MacArthur Fellow in 2012. "I am dead serious with a smile on my face."

Photo: © Armen Elliott