The 2017 Grawemeyer winner blasts white, male bias

The Grawemeyer Award, worth $100,000, is the world’s richest prize for composers.

In its early years the recipients were Lutoslawski, Ligeti, Birtwistle, Chinary Ung, Joan Tower, John Corigliano.

The 2017 winner, announced last night, is Andrew Norman, 37.

A recording of his 2013 symphony Play was acclaimed in the New York Times as ‘the best orchestral work that the 21st century has seen thus far’.

Andrew Norman’s reaction to winning the Grawemeyer was this:

photo: Jessa Anderson

‘If I get more commissions, great, but maybe I can use this moment to talk about things that are important to me. Like to call attention to the fact that there are problems. For instance, this award has been given to three women out of its 30-year history. And to me that’s kind of an issue.

‘And in all honesty, I’m a white man and I get lots of commissions and there are systemic reasons for that, reasons we should all be talking about. There are so many talented composers out there. Rather than giving me another commission, why aren’t we giving those people a commission?

‘The canon is so overwhelmingly white and male, but we can use new music to fix that problem. There are so many voices who should be heard in the concert hall today, of people whose music reflects a wide variety of experiences. That, to me, is the most important issue right now for contemporary classical music and classical music generally — how to get what happens in the concert hall to reflect the diverse society that we are.

‘I think that orchestras have such an opportunity, especially now in this really conflicted, contentious moment, to say something powerful and meaningful about our own time, with the all of the voices of our own time.’

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  • ‘Play’ demonstrates cearly the problems that ‘we’ are in.

    As for diversity commissions, he is entirely right, so there is the perfect way of spending his $ 100,000.–.

  • Does anyone have any credible figures on what proportion of living “serious” classical composers is female? Would be interesting to know how much of a problem a 10% success rate in the Grawemeyer Prize represents. It doesn’t sound great – but if, say, only 10% of contemporary composers are female, it would suggest that this particular problem can’t be laid at the foot of the Grawemeyer committee. If it’s more, then yes, clearly a major problem here.

    This is an important subject, but one upon which it’s very hard to find really accurate statistics – or research that isn’t affected by confirmation bias.

    • At the moment I’d say we’re tracking at around 50/50. Gender-wise that is… Based on what you may ask? Not much, just the composers I know personally… On that he has a point.

      • The entire time I did my master’s degree there wasn’t a single female composition student in the department. There were two teachers, but no students.

        I personally know one woman composer, though I admire a few from past generations.

      • If I had made public the fortunes I made with secret commissions, I would have been accused of stealing the light from females. If I had revealed that the estate I live on, with all the facilities & staff, and the many acres around it, was paid with all the musical forgeries I worked so hard on, and which now circulate as Mozart, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev and Ravel, these pieces would suddenly fall out of circulation and we would’n want that to happen, would we? (Not to speak of all the concerti grossi by Joachim Alzheimer, recently rediscovered.)

  • Guspavo Dudamel conducted his “Play” with Los Angeles symphony. Not interesting and not original concoction. Composer gave lengthy speech before performance that didn’t explained much. Very surprising choice for such prize.

  • Oh god…there is no escape from this relentless conversation. Perhaps Mr. Norman will donate his prize money to a female minority? I know! He can use that money to commission scores from unknown minority women!

    Otherwise this is just virtue-signaling of the most boring kind, and might I add, somewhat rude to those who graciously awarded him the prize.

  • “The canon is so overwhelmingly white and male, but we can use new music to fix that problem.”

    So now we should listen to music based on what category the composer falls into, and not on the beauty or quality of the output? Oh, what a genius!

  • This piece is fascinating. Very impressive.

    The composer? Not so much. If he keeps one cent of that money he is a shameless hypocrite of the highest order (Hillary).

  • Why not include Andrew’s entire reaction to winning the prize?

    “I can tell you that to be given this award, to be written into a list of composers that includes so many of my heroes and mentors, is deeply humbling. I will work for the rest of my creative life to try to be worthy of the honor.”

    You might get more comments by selectively quoting the article to get your readers to think Mr. Norman is a hypocrite or ungracious, but it is hardly the full picture. What exactly is your agenda here if not reporting on the complete reaction?

    Based on the comments here it looks like few people actually read the entire interview.

  • And is his music as bad as that of the previous winners? The only issue is with nomination and selection of winners. How thoughtless.

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