The Grawemeyer award, the largest in contemporary music, has gone to the Dutch composer Louis Andriessen for his opera La Commedia, staged in 2008.
The prize is worth $100,000, which was a life-changing amount when Witold Lustoslawski, Gyorgy Ligeti and Harrison Birtwistle won it in the mid-1980s but seems rather diminished today, not just in purchasing power so much as in the quality of its selections.
Based at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, the peer-given award rarely goes to world-changing works like John Corigliano’s first symphony (1991), Tan Dun’s Marco Polo (1998) or Peter Lieberson’s Neruda Songs (2008). A worthiness has crept in. Often as not it is given to eminent composers who are past ther best but have never won it before. What, we’ve never honoured Kurtag or Boulez? Let’s find a squib of theirs that justifies a prize.
No disrespect to Andriessen who is a jazz-inflected para-minimalist with a powerful, platonic view of human order that he expressed influentially in De Staat as far back as 1976. He is an excellent composer who should have won the Grawemeyer years ago. I doubt, however, that La Commedia is his finest work, or the best that has been heard anywhere in the past two years. Andriessen does not rank high among composers who will dominate the future
. The Grawemeyer needs to take a stern, cold look at its short-term judgements.