Wednesday, April 18, 2018

getting back to the Slipped Disc reaction to the Kendrick Lamar Pulitzer win, remembering George Walker winning the Pulitzer in 1996 and his comments about that win

In the hundred odd comments made about how Kendrick Lamar should or should not have won the Pulitzer prize for music the people objecting to the win have emphasized that hip hop as a musical category should be exempt from even nomination, let alone a win.

But the thing is ... considering Slipped Disc tries to discuss and promote discussion of classical music, including stuff that's obscure or overlooked, it would seem we've had a few days for somebody, anybody, to mention that George Walker won the Pulitzer for one of his works back in 1996.


 In 1996, George Walker became the first black composer to receive the coveted Pulitzer Prize In Music for his work, Lilacs for Voice and Orchestra, premiered by the Boston Symphony, Seiji Ozawa conducting. Prior to that distinction, his Dialogus for Cello and Orchestra nominated by the Cleveland Orchestra for the Pulitzer Prize in 1977 after its premiere, was the only finalist in this competition.   In 1997 Marion Barry, Mayor of Washington, DC proclaimed June 17th as George Walker Day in the nation's capitol. In 1998, he received the Composers Award from the Lancaster Symphony and the letter of Distinction from the American Music Center for "his significant contributions to the field of contemporary American Music."  In 1999, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In April 2000, George Walker was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
His five piano sonatas are all pretty good and I've enjoyed his string quartets and his sonatas for cello and piano and for violin and piano.  I learned of his work thanks to the blogging of Ethan Iverson. 

So if folks who are upset that Kendrick Lamar won the Pulitzer are upset because they wanted a composer who was more officially classical to win there's at least one example of the kind of music that's expected to be highbrow enough that could be mentioned as a point of comparison.

But ... George Walker was asked whether winning the Pulitzer really made a difference in his musical career.  Guess what?
Walker’s winning piece, “Lilacs for voice and orchestra,” used the words of Walt Whitman and was first performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1996.

How did the Pulitzer change his life? “I got probably more publicity nationwide than perhaps any other Pulitzer Prize-winner. But not a single orchestra approached me about doing the piece or any piece. My publisher didn’t have sense enough to push. It materialized in nothing.”


So as people have been saying, arguably the Pulitzer needed Lamar more than Lamar needed the Pulitzer and George Walker's experience has been that added publicity. While Borstlap might have a point that the Lamar Pulitzer is a publicity stunt, it seems that the Pulitzer itself is not a particularly relevant award, and given Walker's account of how little it changed his career over the last thirty years objecting to who wins what Pulitzer seems moot. 

For folks who want to read another little article on Walker, here you go.
Just complaining that a hip hop artist has gotten the Pulitzer as though that were an outrage and that someone with more "classical" chops and work should have been recognized instead is still going to very likely come off as being upset that some pop star won.  Lebrecht has been clear the vulgarity and misogyny of hip hop as a genre appalls him.  Points noted, though Mozart had his fair share of vulgarity, too.  Cominglings of things people consider profound among and by people with vulgar senses of humor is almost too pedestrian and commonplace to mention but for the fact that if Lamar is considered negatively compared to a Mozart I'm ... not so sure Mozart was the less vulgar one. If you write a lot of instrumental music and that's what you get known for the operas and vocal music get skimmed past. 

Come to think of it, last year was the centennial of the death of Scott Joplin, whose music I've loved for decades and while his work remains known it's not like he got a big centennial observance ... or did he?

for something else to read from Slate

I think the basic idea of stylistic fusion is a fantastic idea and the lifeblood of musical innovation and the sustenance of traditions.  The high Baroque synthesis of styles and forms that evolved within German, French, Italian and English as well as Spanish and Polish and Dutch contexts tends to be retroactively read as more monolithic than it really was if you don't make a point of soaking up early, middle as well as late/high Baroque music.  It's not the least bit surprising that the most thorough-going experiments to arrive at fusions of jazz and classical traditions tend to come from people with an interest in jazz and also baroque music, and not just music from the usual high Baroque era suspects but that's some other blogging topic for some other time. 

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