Philip Glass to receive Obama medal (but nothing for Steve Reich?)

Philip Glass to receive Obama medal (but nothing for Steve Reich?)


norman lebrecht

September 15, 2016

The following citations will be read by President Obama next Tuesday at the 2015 National Medal of Arts awards:

Mel Brooks for a lifetime of making the world laugh. As a writer, director, actor, and musician, he pioneered the art of musical comedy, and his hilarious, thought-provoking work on film and in theater have earned him the rare distinction of winning Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy awards. (New York NY)

Sandra Cisneros for enriching the American narrative. Through her novels, short stories, and poetry, she explores issues of race, class, and gender through the lives of ordinary people straddling multiple cultures. As an educator, she has deepened our understanding of American identity. (San Antonio, TX)

Eugene O’Neill Theater Center for its unwavering support of American theater. For over 50 years, the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center has nurtured award-winning playwrights, directors, and actors, enriched the craft of stage production, and delighted audiences with exceptional programs. (Waterford, CT)

Morgan Freeman for his outstanding work as an actor, director, and narrator. His iconic stage and screen performances have brought to life characters from the whole spectrum of the human experience, moving audiences around the world, and influencing countless young artists. (Charleston, MS)

Philip Glass for his groundbreaking contributions to music and composition. One of the most prolific, inventive, and influential artists of our time, he has expanded musical possibility with his operas, symphonies, film scores, and wide-ranging collaborations. (New York, NY)

Berry Gordy for helping to create a trailblazing new sound in American music. As a record producer and songwriter, he helped build Motown, launching the music careers of countless legendary artists. His unique sound helped shape our Nation’s story. (Los Angeles, CA)

Santiago Jiménez, Jr. for expanding the horizon of American music. He has helped spread traditionalconjunto music, blending the sounds and cultures of south Texas and Mexico. His lively melodies performed on the two-button accordion have captivated audiences around the world. (San Antonio, TX)

Moises Kaufman for his powerful contributions to American theater. His work sensitively probes questions of culture and sexuality. His award-winning Tectonic Theater Project continues to move audiences with its bold portrayals of contemporary social issues. (New York, NY)

Ralph Lemon for his contribution to dance and the visual arts. As a self-proclaimed conceptualist, he uses dance as a source of physical communication, and his complex works withstand examination from all angles, revealing intimate truths about human nature and offering broader insights into the American experience. (Brooklyn, NY)

Audra McDonald for lighting up Broadway as one of its brightest stars. An unforgettable performer, she has won six Tony awards. In musicals, concerts, operas, and the recording studio, her rich, soulful voice continues to take her audiences to new heights. (Croton-on-Hudson/New York, NY)

Luis Valdez for bringing Chicano culture to American drama. As a playwright, actor, writer, and director, he illuminates the human spirit in the face of social injustice through award-winning stage, film, and television productions. (San Juan Bautista, CA)

Jack Whitten for remaking the American canvas. As an abstract artist, he uses “casting,” acrylic paints, and compounds to create new surfaces and textures, challenging our perceptions of shape and color. His powerful works of art put the American story in a new light. (New York, NY)


glass reich 1980s

why not?


  • John says:

    Of the twelve recipients listed, Glass is the only composer. Maybe Reich is deserving, but these awards are given to people from across a wide range of the arts landscape and perhaps only one could be chosen. From all that I’ve seen through the years, Glass is clearly the more high profile and popular choice. I hope Steve gets this recognition while he’s still with us. He’s a year older than Philip.

    One can have a healthy debate about the value of the Academy Awards for film actors, but there is a collection of truly superb actors who totally deserved but never got an Oscar. Some of them were fortunate enough to get a ‘consolation prize’ honorary Oscar before they died, but truth be told some very deserving actors who have never been recognized in this way.

  • Eric says:

    There are many deserving artists for such a recognition. I applaud their choice of Philip Glass, and hope for a chance for Steve Reich in the future.

  • B says:

    I am unsure what qualifies Mr. Glass for this honor. Nevertheless, President Trump will correct this error and bestow the the medal on the more deserving Reich.

  • Brian says:

    Philip Glass and Steve Reich are equally deserving of the same awards. Philip Glass is more well known, mainly I believe due to the film scores. A lot of people know of Glass, just because they saw his name in movie credits, and have heard the music in some movie they saw. Steve Reich on the other hand, to my knowledge, has not composed a film score to any movie, at least not to any mainstream movie. This factor is a big reason why Glass is more well known to the general public.

    • John Borstlap says:

      My fly on the wall has informed me this afternoon that Philip, who got Steve on the phone, sobbing, promised to cut the medal in two and give him one half. That is the spiritual greatness of a truly great composer, whose works will soon outshine the likes of Bach, Beethoven and Ives (‘Prizes are for boys; I’m grown-up’- Charles Ives).

  • Manuel Drezner says:

    And how many great writers never got the Nobel?

    • John Borstlap says:

      Yes, good question. My neighbour is a genius but was never nobelled. Actually, he was never published as well, but sent-in his manuscripts to Stockholm every year.

  • Chengisk says:

    Psst…. it is not called ‘Obama Medal’. It is called the National Medal of Arts.

  • John Wilshire says:

    and what about Terry Riley???!!! in C!

    • John Borstlap says:

      Tonal composers who don’t know how to modulate don’t meet the minimum requirements to be eligible for the medal. In a recent press conference, Mr Obama has gravely criticized the lack of modulations in much process music, and expressed the wish that the medal may stimulate minimal composers to at least find the subdominant (the dominant being too republican for the purpose).

      • GW says:

        John Borstlap identifies Philip Glass as a “tonal composer who does not know how to modulate.” Above and beyond the fact that his mature music sometimes does include — indeed, strategically features — modulations, Glass’s training, at Peabody, Juilliard, and under Boulanger, was essentially a long and deep classical study of counterpoint and harmony, in which modulation was far from absent. Indeed, beginning with his Another Look at Harmony (1975-77) a critical engagement specifically with tonal modulation became a central focus of his work, in particular with the pointlessness of pedantic modulation for modulation’s sake, as exemplified by turn-around progressions such as the [: f-Db-A-B-E :] heard in Einstein on the Beach. That Mr Borstlap cannot hear this is unsurprising.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Ho ho ho… my comment referred to Riley’s ‘In C’, not to Philip Glass. I seem to remember that ‘In C’ kept to the key of C (which is a beautiful key, even in Riley’s hands). And Mr Obama’s speech was referring to process composers in general, of which many don’t modulate, or hardly, and then not to the subdominant, which for the White House is the more straight-forward and politically-correct modulatory direction.

          And I have to add that I am always happily relieved when Mr Glass does indeed modulate, after which he gives the listener ample time to let sink-in the experience.

  • David Foulger. says:

    Philip Glass would get a turd from me for boring me to death. Minimalism = Tiny music for tiny minds.

  • Cyril Blair says:

    Audra McDonald?? I know she’s fairly accomplished, but she’s only 46. Most of the others on the list are in their 60s and 70s. Seems premature.

  • pooroperaman says:

    If I write down some arpeggios, can I have a medal too?

  • Una says:

    Two very nice interviews that Bruce Duffie conducted with both Philip Glass and Steve Reich in Chicago. In fact Bruce interviewed both composers twice some years apart, and has combined them onto one page each.

    Enjoy! They are very informative and very well done.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    Obama will put the medal on him, and put the medal on him, and put the medal on him, and put the medal on him, and put the medal on him, and put the medal on him, and put the medal on him, and put the medal on him, and put the medal on him, and put the medal on him, and put the medal on him, and put the medal on him, and put the medal on him….