Pulitzer jury: No contemporary classical work was prizeworthy

Pulitzer jury: No contemporary classical work was prizeworthy


norman lebrecht

April 17, 2018

Like the Nobel decision to give the literature prize to Bob Dylan, the Pulitzer Prize music award to an album by hip-hop performer Kendrick Lamar is an almighty kick in the teeth of contemporary composition, whether fiction or orchestral music.

It is the first time the Pulitzer has gone to a work that is neither classical nor jazz and the Pulitzer administrator Dana Canedy said afterwards, ‘We are very proud of this selection.’

She added: ‘I think this is a huge moment for the music industry and the Pulitzer Prize.’

Two classical works were shortlisted in he final selection- Quartet by Michael Gilbertson and Sound from the Bench, by Ted Hearne. Any half-awake critic could have named a dozen recent classical works by US composers that warrant serious consideration, but the jury were clearly onto something else.

The people who made this decision were:


– Regina Carter, jazz violinist, Maywood, NJ (Chair, pictured)
– Paul Cremo, dramaturg/director of opera commissioning program, The Metropolitan Opera
– Farah Jasmine Griffin, William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies, Columbia University
– David Hajdu, music critic, The Nation and professor of journalism, Columbia University
– David Lang, composer, New York City (Pulitzer Prize Winner)

Perhaps they would care to elucidate their criteria?


  • Candace Allen says:

    Are you race-baiting, Norman?

    • Alex Davies says:

      “The use of racially derisive language, actions, or other forms of communication in order to anger or intimidate or coerce.”

      “the making of verbal attacks against members of a racial group”

      “the unfair use of statements about race to try to influence the actions or attitudes of a particular group of people”

      “The incitement or exploitation of racial hatred, prejudice, or tension, usually (especially in later use) for political gain.”

      I cannot see how Norman’s post could possibly be interpreted as “race-baiting” based on the definitions above.

      • brendon says:

        He posted the picture of exactly one of the five jurors, a black woman. Why no picture of the three white men on the jury if he weren’t trying to imply something regarding the motivations of that juror?

        • Candace Allen says:

          And this done knowing that those represented in the comments below are totally ignorant of the fact that Regina Carter is a classically trained MacArthur Fellow who has recorded intersects of jazz with Paganini, Ravel and Debussy and is fluent in a variety of genres. Just easier to see a woman of color and be ignorantly arrogant.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Obviously, it was a politically-correct decision, in an attempt to surf on the wave of populism, helping – with a symbolic gesture – the tyranny of the majority to exterminate any trace of the idea of artistic quality which is, in the equalized world view, an unfair barrier of professionalism that should be removed so that also the underdeveloped can share in the glamour of art, without needing to acquire the necessary capacities.

    • Jason says:

      It’s just taste dude, you sound very stiff . Open your ears and stop caring about the necessary capacities . Many composers you revere had your kind of argument used against them , whether Berlioz Stravinsky Satie or Stockhausen.

      • John Borstlap says:

        A comment which demonstrates the point. It is a misunderstanding that artistic quality is a mere matter of taste. If this were so, then pop music, rap, hiphop, etc. would exist on the same quality plane as the classical repertoire of the last couple of hundreds of years. It is a modern, populist view, result of ignorance and, indeed, bad taste, or rather: the absence of any taste whatsoever.

        • g says:

          In order to address this statement, I have tried to put myself in your shoes and understand where you’re coming from. But the level of joylessness and pedantism in these comments far surpasses anything I could possibly come to understand and empathise with.

          Might I make a suggestion that you spend less time trolling on slippedisc, and more time listening? Not just to music, but to stories, to the people around you.

          Give me the choice, and I will take being tasteless over being joyless every time.

          • John Borstlap says:

            A comment from someone who probably has stumbled by accident on this site…. which is, actually, meant for classical music, with occasional glimpses over the border to the wilderness of populist territories. Wholeheartedly recommended: reading (books, for instance to be found at public libraries), exploring the internet with the word ‘culture’ (you will be amazed what you will find there), visiting a concert hall where a symphony orchestra is performing (it’s only some 2 hours of your life but really rewarding!), and when it gets too tiring, there is always a sea of pop, rap, hip and hop, and other simple stuff ready for consolation. Good luck!

          • Mark Caudle says:

            My experience is that professional musicians in all fields are far less discriminatory of creative music making regardless of genre. The roots of creativity are held in common.

      • Haydn70 says:

        And what would you know about taste…..dude?

    • Bob Waterman says:

      Have you actually heard the album?

      • John Borstlap says:

        There exist something like genres: we expect different things from different genres, in the same way we expect not the same things from a grocer in comparison to a dentist. So it is in the arts: and this ‘album’ (pop term) does not belong to the serious arts, the genre is entertainment. Maybe that is especially an American problem.

        Did I listen to the CD? No, in the same way it is not quite necessary to smoke Havannas for a month to find-out whether it is bad for my health. Or to attend a Trump rally to see whether he would be a good USA president and world leader. Or to read Mein Kampf from cover to cover to decide whether Hitler was a dangerous crank or not. Or…. etc. etc.

        • David R Osborne says:

          Very funny John. And a great comeback except this guy isn’t any of those things. He is a serious artist and this is no stunt.

          I don’t personally love the work of Miles Davis or John Coltrane either but I can still admire it and understand that it is great music. So it is with Kendrick Lamar.

          Anyway, there is more than the usual level of absurdity being expressed in this thread today so I’m bailing. A final thought on what if anything classical music can learn from this.

          Could it be that to win future Pulitzers we need to write Hip-Hop Operas? Or, perhaps maybe, just maybe we can embrace change at a fundamental level in order to re-discover what it was that made this art-form worth the bother in the first place.

          Doesn’t seem likely though. My money’s on the first of those.

          • Been Here Before says:

            David, usually I agree with most of your comments. Today, unfortunately, I find your advocacy of KL rather absurd.

            As a person with a thorough background in music (but not a professional), I am again posing the same question to you as before: could you please describe to me in plain English what makes KL a serious artist and what makes his “work” great? I listened to a few of his songs on YouTube today and the only thing I could hear was repulsive ranting and swearing. Pure ugliness and brutality, no beauty or depth whatsoever. I am not a fan of jazz, but comparing KL to Davis and Coltrane is an insult to both men.

            You said you were bailing out, but you have not provided a single valid argument for your point of view (except relevance – to which I responded why T. Swift could not get a Pulitzer then since she sells even more albums). John, on the other hand, provided a perfect analysis of the KL – Pulitzer phenomenon.

          • Christopher Culver says:

            Coltrane died in 1968 before hip-hop existed. But I’m not sure Miles Davis would have been so offended by such a comparison, when in the late 1980s and very early 1990s he praised hip-hop and considered it an authentic new cultural expression of his African-American community.

            Lamar’s lyrics aren’t to my liking – I generally can’t get into hip-hop because of the invariable lyrical tropes. But knocking it is problematic. As I’ve mentioned here before, you’ll find the same brutal insults of perceived enemies, the same glorification of violence, of plundering booty and seizing women in the Kyrgyz Manas, and for decades now that storytelling has been considered a masterpiece of cultural expression (e.g. UNESCO recognition, generations of scholars from around the world writing about it.) I just can’t help but feel that people who dismiss hip-hop are doing so because they have a problem with the ethnicity that mainly performs it.

          • norman lebrecht says:

            It is all about the language, and the language here is violent, abusive to women and generally misanthropic. If we abominate these attitudes in the workplace, how can we honour them as art?

  • Leopold Tobisch says:

    Would you care to elucidate your criteria as to why Kendrick Lamar should NOT win a prize of this nature?

    Though I agree wholeheartedly that there is a plethora of classical works worthy of award, is it not interesting to widen the borders of such a prize and redefine what a “prize for achievement in musical composition” can and should celebrate?

    Kendrick Lamar is without question a talented artist and has brought a new vision to his field, and though not everything he has produced is Pulitzer-worthy his output is certainly worthy of such attention.

    In any case, I find it hard to believe that the five members of the jury were only “half-awake”…

    • John Borstlap says:

      If the Pulitzer Prize ‘widens its scope’ to include hiphop performers, that devaluates the symbolic value of the prize in the same way a Nobel Prize for a pop artist devalues the Nobel Prize. Hiphop is street gang genre and it is already quite deplorable that it is considered a form of ‘entertainment’. To reward it with what formerly was a cultural accolade, is a sign of erosion, not of emancipatory inclusion. Such an artist should receive, if necessary at all, a hiphop medal and some pot to celebrate.

      • Wilby Daniels says:

        (Said in a Sam the Eagle voice)

      • brendon says:

        Complete dribble. Nonsense, out-of-touch argle-bargle from someone whose biases against African American cultural production are transparent. Kendrick Lamar is a creative, transcendent artist within his specific pop paradigm. To deny him is to deny the artistic potential of pop itself and to shutter oneself in the ivory tower.

        • Henry says:

          Here’s some lyrics. Definitely creative and transcendent! Reminds me of the B minor mass actually.

          Bitch, be humble (hol’ up, bitch)
          Sit down (hol’ up, lil’, hol’ up, lil’ bitch)
          Be humble (hol’ up, bitch)
          Sit down (hol’ up, sit down, lil’, sit down, lil’ bitch)
          Be humble (hol’ up, hol’ up)
          Bitch, sit down (hol’ up, hol’ up, lil’ bitch)

          • Leopold Tobisch says:

            Here are some other lyrics Henry. It’s easy to pick and choose information to prove one’s point…

            Look inside these walls and you see them having withdrawals
            Of a prisoner on his way
            Trapped inside your desire
            To fire bullets that stray
            Track a tire just tell you I’m tired and ran away
            I should ask a choir what do you require
            To sing a song that acquire me to have faith
            As the record spin I should pray
            For the record I recognize that I’m easily prey
            I got ate alive yesterday
            I got animosity building
            It’s probably big as a building
            Me jumping off of the roof
            Is just me playing it safe
            But what am I supposed to do
            When the topic is red or blue
            And you understand that I ain’t
            But know I’m accustomed to
            Just a couple that look for trouble
            And live in the street with rank
            No better picture to paint than me walking from bible study
            And called his homies because he had said he noticed my face
            From a function that tooken place
            They was wondering if I bang
            Step on my neck and get blood on your Nike checks
            I don’t mind because one day you’ll respect
            The good kid, m.A.A.d. city

          • brendon says:

            If you can’t appreciate Kendrick’s playful, percussive use of syllables in the chorus for “Humble” then you can’t appreciate life itself.

        • Henry says:

          Ah but Leopold, those aren’t lyrics from the album that won the Pulitzer. The ones I posted are. In fact, here are some more creative transcendent lyrics from Lamar’s Pulitzer prize winning opus:

          I’m willin’ to die for this shit, nigga
          I’ll take your fuckin’ life for this shit, nigga
          We ain’t goin’ back to broke, family sellin’ dope
          That’s why you maney-ass rap niggas better know

          If I gotta slap a pussy-ass nigga, I’ma make it look sexy
          If I gotta go hard on a bitch, I’ma make it look sexy
          I pull up, hop out, air out, made it look sexy

          • brendon says:

            These lyrics are great, thanks for letting me know!

          • llawrz says:

            Funny how a rap album can win a classical prize, but a classical album will never win a rap prize. Seems that kind of thing only goes one way…almost like, you know, somebody has an agenda…

          • Leopold Tobisch says:

            @Henry Very first verse of the very first song on Damn:

            So I was takin’ a walk the other day
            And I seen a woman—a blind woman
            Pacin’ up and down the sidewalk
            She seemed to be a bit frustrated
            As if she had dropped somethin’ and
            Havin’ a hard time findin’ it
            So after watchin’ her struggle for a while
            I decide to go over and lend a helping hand, you know?
            “Hello ma’am, can I be of any assistance?
            It seems to me that you have lost something
            I would like to help you find it.”
            She replied: “Oh yes, you have lost something
            You’ve lost… your life.”

            Shocking. How dare he…good grief, I’m insulted to my core.

        • John Borstlap says:

          When African Americans are primitive, they are primitive as individuals and not because their skin is black. When Kaukasian Americans are primitive, they are primitivie because they are primitive as individuals and not because their skin is white. When a Chinese primitive man…. etc. etc. etc.

          I know life is difficult, but not THAT difficult.

        • Anson says:

          Hear, hear, Brendon. John’s throwaway reference to awarding a hip hop artist “some pot to celebrate” was a particularly classy touch.

          • anmarie says:

            Yes, almost as classy as, “If I gotta slap a pussy-ass nigga, I’ma make it look sexy”.

  • David R Osborne says:

    Great decision! Choosing relevant, living, grass-roots generated contemporary culture over an obscure and self-indulgent field, of interest only to a statistically insignificant percentage of the planet’s population. A much needed kick in the pants for those who exercise creative control.

    • David R Osborne says:

      Oh, and Kendrick Lamar is a brilliant musician and poet.

      • Leopold Tobisch says:

        HEAR HEAR!

      • Been Here Before says:

        Are you serious? As a professional musician, I would like for you to point musical elements that display brilliancy.

        • David R Osborne says:

          As a professional musician, I would like those of you who think that artistic merit of creative works can be evaluated by dissection and analysis, and that somehow you can keep a score-card of these things, to understand just how utterly wrong you are.

          • Been Here Before says:

            But how do you make a decision if you disregard analysis? Taylor Swift has more clicks on youtube and sells more albums, so we can say that she is more relevant. She also started as a country singer, so there we have a “relevant, living, grass-roots generated contemporary culture”. Why not award a Pulitzer to her?

          • Haydn70 says:

            There is no end to your politically correct drivel, is there?

        • Leopold Tobisch says:

          One could ask you to do the same for the classical works selected for the prize…?

          This is in no way to say that there are no musical elements displaying brilliancy in these works, but why must this debate automatically assume that Kendrick Lamar has no brilliancy of his own?

          Gilbertson, Hearne, and Lamar are completely different musicians, working in different ways and each tackling their field in their own way… Had Gilbertson won, would this section be filled with comments criticising this choice over Hearne? Probably not.

          • Been Here Before says:

            I have listened a few of his songs on youtube. I can not hear any musical elements there except continuous ranting and swearing. Can this even be qualified as music?

          • Leopold Tobisch says:

            @Been Here Before
            OF COURSE IT CAN! And the very fact that you ask that question is proof of a very narrow-minded fashion of understanding what music can be and what music can become… Can Schoenberg’s 12-tone “music” be considered music? Obviously it can. Is it something I enjoy hearing? No not necessarily, but that doesn’t put into question its very nature, and I appreciate the logic and complexity the work presents

            By your understanding, music cannot contain any swearing? That’s the “Threepenny Opera” gone then…!! Music can’t contain references to sex and other contentious subjects? That’s pretty much Mozart (“Don Giovanni”), Bizet (“Carmen”), Strauss (“Salome”) out the window!

            Lamar isn’t sat at a desk every night writing melodies and orchestrating his songs because his field doesn’t operate in that fashion. He writes complex lyrics that operate on many levels, some crude, some clever, some funny… He envisions collaborations and musical samples that result in a very unique sound in today’s world of hip hop.

          • Been Here Before says:

            This is, of course, the answer I expected – I have been accused of being conservative and narrow minded before. You can’t really compare Mozart, Bizet, Strauss, Schoenberg and Weill to an uncouth young brute. This is ridiculous.

            Unfortunately, I could not recognize any complex, clever or funny lyrics in his “songs”- only continues ranting and swearing. No music, art, beauty or depth whatsoever. You can’t even call this entertainment since it is so repulsive. Sorry!

          • Candace Allen says:

            I’ve been checking in on this back and forth with a modicum of unsurprised amusement but “uncouth young brute”? It would seem, sir, that your hood is slipping righteously into place, for we most certainly have “Been Here Before”..

          • Leopold Tobisch says:

            Hip hop is a method of artistic and musical expression just like any other; its only weakness is that it’s “new” and “from the street”, which for some equates to “a simple music created by uneducated individuals”. It boils down to a question of taste: I find KL’s music interesting, challenging, stimulating, new, and relevant. I don’t like everything, but nor do I like everything Miles recorded.

            Just because you don’t approve of what this uncouth young brute produces does not mean he is not worthy of any accolades or recognition. Someone, somewhere, decided to give KL a chance, and millions of people responded positively to what they heard.

            If “artistic merit” such as this Pulitzer is purely earned through intellectually validated show-jumping, then those who value such prizes can keep it since it has no social significance whatsoever…

          • Been Here Before says:

            Candace, if you are insinuating at me being a racist, let me just tell you that I am a great admirer of Barrack Obama and Nelson Mandela. KL could learn a lot from these two true giants – both of them temperate, educated, articulated and cultured men.

          • Leopold Tobisch says:

            @Been Here Before

            Yes, if only Barack Obama had ever expressed the SLIGHTEST admiration of KL’s music.

            Hmmm if only…




          • Been Here Before says:

            Leopold Tobisch – if counting millions of fans and dollars earned, why should not Taylor Swift also receive a Pulitzer Prize? Concerning the uncouth young brute expression, I would apply the same term to Eminem, too.

          • Leopold Tobisch says:

            If a jury of her peers judges that she has earned it, of course she should!
            It still wouldn’t make me like her music, but ultimately that’s the decision of the jury.

            I think clearly your problem lies not with Lamar’s music, but rather the jury! If you don’t accept the choice of five seemingly well-regarded people, then that’s your problem, not Lamar’s.

            And let’s not get started on Eminem, since we’ll have the same debate all over again: I like rap music (as much as classical), you do not like rap music. There is no point in debating since clearly neither will be convinced by the other.

            Simply accept that your opinion is not that of a large majority of people, and deal with it.

            PS Eminem is not young anymore, so just “uncouth brute” for him.

          • Been Here Before says:

            No, I do have a problem with KL. His “songs” are repulsive and violent (not to even mention misogyny). We live in a free society, so you can listen to whatever you want. I sincerely wonder what enjoyment you find in it, though.

            John Borstlap knows much more about music than I do, and he provided an excellent analysis of why KL won the Pulitzer. I believe he was right when he said that this was a politically correct statement pandering to the rising populism. I would also assume a slightly more cynical stand and add that those five folks (of whom only one is a professional classical composer) wanted some additional free publicity. So let them be, in a year or two nobody will remember, much less care.

            I agree that we will never agree, so enjoy KL’s new album. I will stick with Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. I seriously doubt, though, that majority of people sincerely enjoy this. And one more thing – when you mention Mozart, Bizet and Strauss, their work survived centuries. I wonder how will KL’s songs fare in 10 or 20 years.

            As per Pres. Obama, I wonder how he and his wife would react if their lovely daughters used the language of KL’s songs in front of them.

          • brendon says:

            “Unfortunately, I could not recognize any complex, clever or funny lyrics in his “songs”- only continues ranting and swearing. No music, art, beauty or depth whatsoever. You can’t even call this entertainment since it is so repulsive.”

            Quittard on The Rite of Spring: “a laborious and puerile barbarity”

          • Alex Davies says:

            With regard to Candace Allen’s comment, I don’t see anything inherently racist in pointing out that Kendrick Lamar’s music lacks complexity, intelligence, humour, musicality, artistic feeling, beauty, and profundity. It’s not even necessary to use Mozart, Bizet, Strauss, Schoenberg, and Kurt Weill as one’s benchmark. Listen to “Weird Al” Yankovic, for example, and you’ll hear somebody who is actually clever and funny. Listen to George Jones, for example, or any number of country singers, and you’ll hear genuine, affecting emotion. Listen to Elvis and you’ll hear a singer with a beautiful voice and absolutely first-class musicianship (the same could be said of Frank Sinatra). I’m not a particular fan of the Beatles or Queen, but I can appreciate that some of their songs/albums are conceptually and musically quite sophisticated. As for pure entertainment, Abba is pretty banal stuff, but one cannot deny that it’s inoffensive, enjoyable, and memorable. Kendrick Lamar sounds to me to be simply not very good and rather unpleasant.

            Unfortunately, some people seem to want to believe that people who say this must be racist. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bobby Short was one of my favourite singers. I consider him to be unsurpassed in interpretation of the Great American Songbook. Louis Armstrong I have loved since childhood. He was a great singer, a great trumpeter, and a musical genius. When Wynton Marsalis said of him, “He left an undying testimony to the human condition in the America of his time”, I felt that this was true only up to a point: Armstrong left a testimony to the human condition, not just in America, and not just in his own time. I could go on to mention Roberta Flack, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday…

      • Alex Davies says:

        Brilliant poet? If you’re going to talk about brilliant American poets (adopting the broadest possible definition of “American”) you’d surely want to set the bar a little higher: T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, E.E. Cummings, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Emily Dickinson, and Edna St Vincent Millay, among others.

  • Brian says:

    It’s been interesting to see a sizable faction of the (online) classical new-music community come out in favor of this choice. I suspect they’re afraid of being perceived as being out of touch or worse, racist, and thus they’re cheering on the result. But it does suggest that composers may need to start thinking more about their audiences a bit more, and whether their music speaks to contemporary concerns.

    Norman is correct to point out the jury’s makeup here too. Aside from David Lang, it doesn’t seem to include anyone with much expertise in contemporary classical music.

    • Leopold Tobisch says:

      “I suspect they’re afraid of being perceived as being out of touch or worse, racist, and thus they’re cheering on the result.”

      Can these members not simply be fans of Kendrick’s work and supportive of such a choice? Must the very fact that they show support signify an underlying hypocrisy?

      • Brian says:

        Fair point. I’m sure that was also the case.

      • Haydn70 says:

        “Can these members not simply be fans of Kendrick’s work and supportive of such a choice?”

        Yes the are simply fans of his work…and they are idiots.

        • Leopold Tobisch says:

          You are clearly a narrow-minded fool incapable of opening your mind to new experiences, whether they please you or not. Anyone who doesn’t share your point of view is wrong…worse, an ”idiot”.

          For someone who claims to be an intelligent and mature person, “above” those who listen to KL, you certainly behave like one far below…

  • Caravaggio says:


  • phf655 says:

    Other than the so-called minimalism of the likes of Philip Glass, John Adams and Steve Reich – which I personally don’t even think of as classical music, and I doubt will have staying power – what is the last piece to enter the classical repertoire, and to please audiences upon repeated hearings?

    • David R Osborne says:

      Depends what you mean. Arvo Pärt Spiegel im Spiegel is very popular and often performed, but it is just a chamber work. Górecki Symphony 3 was big for a while but has faded, possible because it’s about ten times longer than it needs to be. Other post war candidates might be the War Requiem, and another Pulitzer winner in Appalachian Spring. But to find something that gets anything close to universal agreement, we need to go back to 1947. The Vier Letzte Lieder.

      • FS60103 says:

        Alternatively, you could try moving past your prejudices and noticing that John Adams’s “Short Ride in a Fast Machine” and “The Chairman Dances” are performed hundreds of times each year, as is Marquez’s Danzon No.2. The Classic FM Hall of Fame in the UK lists pieces by Arvo Part, Piazzolla, Eric Whitacre, Philip Glass, Morten Lauridsen, Peter Maxwell Davies and we haven’t even mentioned John Williams – though I’ve noticed that people who are quite happy to admit ballet scores and theatrical incidental music can still snobbishly refuse to accept that film scores are a legitimate classical genre.

        • David R Osborne says:

          I find John Williams’ concert work pretty drab. Nino Rota however, should get a lot more of run than he does. A man who wrote some seriously good tunes.

  • collin says:

    The thing is, Kendrick Lamar failed to win Grammy’s top prize, so is the Pulitzer just tryin’ to show it’s hipper and edgier than the Grammy’s (or as they say in rap, just frontin’)?

    There is a certain hypocrisy on the part of jury member (it was unanimous) Paul Cremo, Director of opera commissioning program at the Metropolitan. If he thought DAMN was better than anything the Met commissioned or could have commissioned in 2017, why didn’t he commission Kendrick Lamar’s work for the Met?

    ’cause he just frontin’

    • David R Osborne says:

      Or because Kendrick Lamar doesn’t compose operas?

      • collin says:

        What is the definition of “opera” in contemporary music today?

        For any definition you give, someone will 1) find a counter example of a contemporary opera that does not fit your definition, and 2) a reason why Lamar’s work would fit into that definition.

        • David R Osborne says:

          Things have got seriously weird on Slipped Disc today. I can’t help but feel somehow responsible.

          • buxtehude says:

            It’s not your fault David. It’s Trump! He’s kicked away the norms and hosed away the conventions; there are no fences left between the “neighbors”.

            The KL output is more lyrics than music, Monteverdi on meth. It expresses the rage and the taste and the will-to-power of young blacks at the bottom in the US, and not just on the bottom, but its base is class and race. It obviously carries very broad appeal, look at the numbers! — and so commands one the major claims that music like to make for itself.

            These stupid prize committees like the Lit Nobel and the Pulitzers generally, are first and last in the service of themselves and have nothing to teach or say. (The Board for the journalism prizes is made up of the publishers themselves, so they are the getters as well as the givers much of the time.) As you so often and skillfully point out, the category “contemporary classical music” is nothing but a label on an empty box, it’s a vacuum, and it’s fitting that a man who knows how to “slap a pussy-ass nigga” with style mind you, will find himself inside. It’s how, in the present atmosphere, fruit of zombie economics, our fabulous president won through, isn’t that so?

            Anybody who tries to square this circle will find a deluge of incommensurate considerations, charges, reminders and very stern lectures raining down on her head. Let us laugh brothers & sisters, forget these ostragoths and academics and remember the riches that we have.

            As from Igor Levit, who’s in the news here today, maybe soon we can all fight with each other over whether or not he belongs in a 21st century top-ten:


            And for anyone who may want to maybe stretch just a leetle, try on the rasp of the banjo:


          • John Borstlap says:

            Don’t worry; it’s not you. It’s just that a couple of [redacted] got astray and tumbled onto this SD thread when they enthusiastically typed the word ‘Lamar’ in the google box. And then they got stunned that there were real people in the world who really did not find this rapper a great artist.

      • Haydn70 says:

        Of course he doesn’t compose operas…or string quartets or symphonies or cello sonatas because he is unable to as he is a musically ignorant buffoon.

    • AnnaT says:

      Collin, what’s up with the dropping of the Gs at the ends of your words? “As they say in rap” is pretty freaking sketchy talk.

      • brendon says:

        He’s doing it to mock African American vernacular English, because he hates black people and finds their cultural production to be detestable. It’s quite simple.

  • FS60103 says:

    No point getting overexcited about this, unless you live in the USA. The Pulitzer Prize for music is the musical equivalent of the World Series: a display of prestige that in fact only makes the great country bestowing it look astonishingly parochial. For every Samuel Barber or John Luther Adams on the list there are dozens of Howard Hansons, Jennifer Higdons, Chares Wuorinens and Dominic Argentos – decent enough composers, sure, but of mostly local interest. A music Pulitzer isn’t exactly an indicator of towering international significance, and it never has been.

  • Gottfried Fischer says:

    If it keeps the social justice warriors happy and quiet for a few weeks, I for one will be glad to accept the result.
    This is just purely indicative of the general quality of modern music, classical and otherwise. It is my strong belief that nothing worthwhile has been composed for over 35 years now. Either way the panel all appear to be baldy-headed pseudo intellectuals, or ‘women of colour’ with indiscernible self-aggrandising agendas- my advice is to not worry yourself about what a group of people like that have to say, especially when they’re virtue-signalling.

    • John Borstlap says:

      “It is my strong belief that nothing worthwhile has been composed for over 35 years now.” That is nonsense, there has been enough worthwhile music written in that period, only the normal framework which would spread the news is eroding, with white noise and populist nonsense spreading like a mist over the field, so that audiences are left in the dark. David Matthews, Nicolas Bacri, Guillaume Connesson, Richard Dubugnon, Thierry Escaich, Karol Beffa, just to name a few. But they are Europeans. In the US: Paul Moravec, Lera Auerbach, Jake Heggie, Daniel Gilliam, Pierre Jalbert, Aaron Jay Kernis, Jonathan Leshnoff, Daniel Asia, Reza Vali, and no doubt some others. And these are composers who revive a more traditional outlook which is increasingly successful. It is merely a matter of being informed…. a revival is underway.


      • Gottfried Fischer says:

        Perhaps it’s unfair to say there has been absolutely nothing, some of the composers you mention have written some laudable music, but we never hear anything of it- why- because committees with a ridiculous political agenda, such as the board judging the Pulitzer, and other similar groups programming orchestras/opera houses stand in the way of any ‘good music’ being performed or acknowledged.
        Mr Lamar being awarded the Pulitzer is the biggest insult to music that I have witnessed in all my life. Check out Menotti’s The Consul which won sometime in the 50s- that’s the standard worthy of the award, not this moronic, obscene ghetto nonsense. What an insult to previous winners, and moreover an insult to culture.

  • Drexel says:

    I don’t find this as controversial as some because the fact of the matter is the vast overwhelming majority of Pulitzer winning music has been complete garbage, and Lamar’s album is just continuing the trend.

  • muslit says:

    Damn, how much mony did ‘Damn’ make?

  • muslit says:

    Maybe Lamar will win the Nobel next. In Literature.

  • Father Hennepin says:

    It’s no surprise, with a minority of trained classical musicians on the jury, which is inherently discriminatory. It’s outrageous to mix categories so, destroys all credibility for the Pulitzer. It’s also the fault of the nominators, who failed to nominate a work truly “worthy”. I used to get letters asking me for nominations, but I didn’t know of any to nominate. And I only got those for being listed as an arts administrator type. They are asking the wrong people. It’s distressing to learn, as an adult, that awards are meaningless and usually go to the wrong people, as one grows up with the dream of winning. But most outrageous of all is their consideration of any kind of rap as music. The absence of standards is truly sickening, enough to make one suicidal.

    • David R Osborne says:

      “It’s no surprise, with a minority of trained classical musicians on the jury, which is inherently discriminatory.”

      Oh my God, I was trying to stay out of this, mindful as I am of my role as Slipped Disc’s ‘voice of reason’, but that sentence just… ah… words fail me.

      • Max says:

        Trust me David, I know…it’s SO frustrating when you’re trying to virtue signal but just can’t seem to come up with the right words to adequately display your own enlightened superiority. It’s ok, we’ve all been there.

        • brendon says:

          Anyone who uses the phrase “virtue signal” believes it impossible for a person in a position of privilege to empathize with and believe in equality for those not in a position of privilege. It’s a grotesque, cynical word and should immediately disqualify you from being taken seriously.

    • brendon says:

      >It’s distressing to learn, as an adult, that awards are meaningless and usually go to the wrong people, as one grows up with the dream of winning. But most outrageous of all is their consideration of any kind of rap as music. The absence of standards is truly sickening, enough to make one suicidal.

      Totally normal, not at all melodramatic response. Go calm yourself down with some Mahler or Wagner or something a little less hyperbolic than your prose.

  • Anson says:

    One plausible way for serious, thinking people to process their surprise at a hip hop album being awarded the Pulitzer would be to say, “that’s interesting, I don’t believe I’ve ever thought of hip hop worth listening to, but enough people seem to take it seriously that perhaps there is something to it,” and to do some reading and research about the subject matter. Learn its history, trace its development, understand something about the technique. You may not end up agreeing, and you may come out thinking that the Pulitzer jury and all admirers of hip hop are wrong-headed, but you’ll at least be giving some effort at understanding them, in the most minimal sense of acknowledging that some people have devoted their life’s work to that genre and therefore there might be *something* to it.

    But that’s too much too many readers here, apparently. Far better to not even listen to the album at all (much less do any digging into the background and history of the music), declare it trash because of preconceptions about the genre and its practitioners, and then pass off as serious analysis a few political just-so stories (with just the right amount of insinuation) explaining what the jurors “must” have “really” been doing in awarding the prize.

    There’s nothing wrong with concluding that you don’t personally care for something that others laud. But there is something seriously wrong with assuming that any major prize in the world is flawed or worse if every single year’s result doesn’t match your own taste.

    • Candace Allen says:

      Thank you. Cogent civilisation. At last.

    • Alex Davies says:


      I’ve never knowingly enjoyed a single work by Stockhausen, but I am prepared to suspect that his life’s work has a value that has so far eluded me. I’m not convinced that the same can be said about Kendrick Lamar.

    • David R Osborne says:

      Well done Anson.

    • Gottfried Fischer says:

      Regrettably I was forced to take a compulsory module at university during my undergraduate degree (at one of the UK’s top institutions) which traced the development of hip hop music, elucidated its history, and explained the genre’s musical technique (if one can call it that). Upon hearing the news of Mr Lamar’s Pulitzer victory I decided to listen to the album, it was appalling- the sort of stuff a teenage sixth form drop-out would put together with in his mate’s garage. Even after all of my research into the genre I still firmly uphold that all of it is sub-musical and not worthy of anybody’s attention; at least nobody who is a civilised cultured member of society and doesn’t live in a ghetto. The winning album is no exception, it’s just a sad attempt to be original, one which obviously fails- Mr Lamar is simply a brain-dead thug who belongs in a prison and nowhere else, especially not at ceremonies for serious cultural awards.

      • Anson says:

        I’m glad you listened to the album. I have no qualms about your not liking it, as there are certainly Pulitzer winners that I myself have loathed.

        I am surprised to hear that Mr. Lamar belongs in a prison. What crimes has he committed? Or are we now imprisoning people whose art we don’t care for? (If that’s the case, watch out Andrea Bocelli and Kenny G!) Or is there something else?

    • John Borstlap says:

      PC nonsense without any cultural perspective.

      • Anson says:

        That’s the spirit! The mere suggestion that you listen to the album and learn the first thing about the context before judging it — and I fully accept in my comment above that one’s judgment may turn out to be negative — is “politically correct.” How nice (and liberating!) to know that I can now become an anti-PC crusader by making judgments about things — aesthetic judgments, at that! — without ever experiencing them.

        • John Borstlap says:

          The sad truth is that the entire staff here is strictly forbidden to listen to rap, hiphop, mongol throat singing and Rachmaninoff under work hours. The hiphop ban is the result of one of those ‘research attacks’ which lasted some 3 weeks and produced a bunch of articles that no magazine wanted to print because of the wording, so we are deprived of an occasional relaxation and have to restort to secret meetings in the wine cellar where the cook has an oldfashioned cd player. For my part I prefer hip to hop but that’s personal, it’s because it brings back memories of my gentle youth. As his PA I’m not allowed to express a personal opinion about this wildly interesting matter but at least I can say that all that serious stuff here sometimes gets on my nerves and then listening to some more human stuff, even if it’s full of dirt, is so refreshing.


  • robcat2075 says:

    The hysteria is unwarranted. It’s just a prize, not a license anyone needs to pursue their art.

    Only the barest handful of Pulitzer Prize winning composition have made it into the common repertoire.

    I once played in the world premiere of a new work by a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer.

    Quite forgettable.

    In college I heard a credible account that he had obtained the award by means other than merit to salvage his hopes for tenure at an academic post.

  • Alex Davies says:

    Norman evidently prefers classical music and jazz over hip hop. That doesn’t make him racist. I don’t like bagpipe music; that doesn’t mean that I’m racially prejudiced against Scottish people.

    • David R Osborne says:

      Well I adore bagpipe music and draw the line at someone dissing it. It was a childhood dream of mine to learn the bagpipes and one day before I am an old man ( so it better be soon) I will live that dream. In the full kit no less. And I expect a Pulitzer for it.

  • Tom MacCammon says:

    Norman is completely right and John Borstlap is also beyond most people’s comprehension, absolutely and utterly right.

    It is an embarrassment, and quite honestly sickening that they made this political decision, in a flat attempt at making a “point”.

    From a NYTimes Article:

    “One thing that also strikes me about giving the award to “DAMN.” is that it quietly sets aside two previous Pulitzer givens: that the winning piece was performed by live musicians in real time and that it was written by a solitary composer.”


    “Mr. Lamar is the auteur, fully in charge but not the sole creator”.

    These are huge problems with the selection.

    Also, this is not a Rap prize, it is Classical Composition Prize. Something that Mr. Lamar doesn’t have the faintest idea of.

    -Tom MacCammon

    • Leopold Tobisch says:

      Pretty sure it’s a “prize for achievement in musical composition”…nowhere is it stated that it is reserved for classical works. You yourself have simply imagined that such a prize must be reserved for a pseudo self-preserving intellectual elite.

      • Leopold Tobisch says:

        Well if the Pulitzer jury is wrong, then clearly there’s a problem with the prize in general…in which case, you shouldn’t give two ***** who gets it!

        If next year a classical work wins the prize, will the jury suddenly and miraculously be in the right again? Or will it just be a case of “what I like won, so all is well in the world”.

  • Alex Davies says:

    Did anybody else actually listen to Michael Gilbertson’s Quartet? I rather liked it.

  • almaviva says:

    Before yesterday’s announcement, I swear I never heard of Kendrick Lamar. It goes with our saying that hip-hop is not my cup of tea, so many of these singers are unknown to me – but awarding something so prestigious as a Pulitzer to a rapper smacks of political correctness. With only one composer on the jury, this was inevitably bound to happen… but still! There are tens of great composers out there who deserve more recognition and exposure. Millionaire rappers like Lamar already have the Grammys, BET, MTV Video Awards, and so many other similar stages for acknowledgement. Do they really need a Pulitzer too?

    • brendon says:

      Kendrick Lamar has been at the center of American popular musical culture for the last six years. If you’d never heard of him before yesterday, you should descend down from your ivory tower now and then to figure out what the plebs are listening to.

  • muslit says:

    Frankly, in the future, I think classical composers should just be excluded from consideration for the Pulitzer. Just like that.

    • Leopold Tobisch says:

      BRILLIANT!!! I’m laughing so hard right now…thanks Candace!

      “What did you think of the board awarding this year’s top prize to Kendrick?

      Hearne: I don’t put too much stock in prizes, but this is a really important year because Kendrick Lamar’s music is super important to me and to a lot of people. Hip-hop as a genre has been important to me as a composer, but Kendrick’s work in particular. He is such a bold and experimental and authentic artist. He’s one of the people that is creating truly new music.”


      “Maybe you’ll work with Kendrick.
      Gilbertson: That would be a great honor.”

      I guess Hearne and Gilbertson are just another couple of uncouth young brutes…pity

      • Been Here Before says:

        Of course they would say this… if not, they would be labelled as sore losers!

        • Leopold Tobisch says:

          Why can they not be fans of KL’s music? Is it so totally incomprehensible that someone like Hearne or Gilbertson may be a fan of such a genre?

          I myself work in/with classical music on a daily basis, I am a classicaly-trained musician and fight every day for a place and relevance for Classical music in today’s society. HOWEVER, I am also a fan of rap music (amongst many other genres). The two are not incompatible, and not everyone is automatically an approval-seeking hypocrite when they say they like KL, or Eminem, or any aspect of hip hop culture.

          It’s sad to see that, for some, it is seemingly unthinkable for the two to even be mentioned in the same sentence…

          • David R Osborne says:

            Leopold, I am in a similar position as you, but I do think I know the answer to that question.

            For many, it seems not to be good enough just to love the music. Rather they attach themselves to the notion that our art-form is an exclusive club, a superior form capable of being understood by only the most advanced intellects.

            This is the rock on which the present day establishment hierarchy firmly bases itself. Anything (such as the current topic) that comes along to challenge this notion therefore represents in their eyes, an existential threat.

          • REGERFAN says:

            If you want to keep young Americans away from classical music, the perfect way to do so is to tell them their popular music interests are wrong-headed. They won’t want to associate with people who espouse the views seen on this thread.

          • Been Here Before says:

            David, I do not claim an advanced intellect or membership in any exclusive clubs, but I know passive-aggressive behavior when I see it.

            My question still stands – as a professional composer, could you please elucidate on the greatness of KL’s music? Is it sophisticated form, ambiguous harmonies, brilliantly developed texture, or unforgettable melodies? Does his foul language perhaps contain some unconscious archetypes that those of us not worthy of your response do not understand? Be a good sport and help us out!

  • Mel says:

    I think what we have here is a very thorny and deep-rooted problem based first and foremost in education. I am 33 years old, but when I was a child in the US public-school system, I had the chance to play in an orchestra. I played the violin and also grew up in a middle-class family that highly valued classical music. Both my grandfather and my mother were professional musicians at different times in their careers and they left me a legacy for which I feel immense gratitude. For years however, arts programmes have been swept away and funds cut. Young people especially, speaking in general terms, seem to have so little conversance much less fluency with either the classical Canon or more modern compositions. As someone stated above, I do think that wider exposure would equal wider appreciation. But how will that happen in the current atmosphere? Many journalists did indeed seem very eager to jump on board with the jury’s decision. Whether this represented their true and considered opinions or were calculated moves to appease both readership and Zeitgeist, is a question for debate. One notable dissenting voice appeared in The Telegraph. Classical music critic Ivan Hewett brought up at least one interesting point that hasn’t appeared here yet and which I will quote below:
    “We don’t have to argue over definitions. We should admit that culture changes, and awards should change with it. But as with changes to a legal system, or patterns of organised religion, changes to an award must be considered and gradual. Excitable and angry critics will say to hell with precedent, let’s bring on the revolution. But if you transform an institution like an award overnight, it loses its coherence. And if it has no coherence, it has no value, and will soon lose all respect.”

    • John Borstlap says:

      This quote is a typical music critic nicety: it looks nice on paper but when you think about it, it evaporates in the light of the day. It is like saying to wandering tourists who forgot to bring a map: ‘Yes, this is the Grand Canyon, just lean over gradually and then you will see it’s true.’

  • Terri Swartout says:

    norman lebrecht says:

    April 17, 2018 at 6:41 pm

    It is all about the language, and the language here is violent, abusive to women and generally misanthropic. If we abominate these attitudes in the workplace, how can we honour them as art?


    • Allison Loggins-Hull says:

      Terri and Norman. Kendrick Lamar does not rap about abusing women AT ALL. Kendrick Lamar does not rap about condoning violence, though he may rap about violent experiences and violent realities that people have. Kendrick Lamar does not rap about hating people, but definitely criticizes the behaviors of some people.

      Your statement is based on a preconceived notion of what you believe hip-hop is. Yes, there are very mediocre hip-hop artists out there who rap about abusing women, behaving violently and misanthropy and unfortunately, they receive a lot of radio play. Kendrick Lamar is not that.

      Guess what? There are very mediocre classical composers out there as well.

      Many of you have an extreme supremacist attitude when it comes to music. Like any other kind of supremacist out there, it is reflective of either your unwillingness to learn about or complete ignorance of other peoples and cultures. You have lumped all hip-hop artists together and decided that the entire genre has no merit. Kendrick Lamar is not the same as 2Chainz, Coltrane is not the same as Kenny G, Mozart is not the same Spohr.

      I’d like to see you all you haters do a rhythmic dictation of Kendrick’s rapping, critically analyze his lyrics with a historical context, and tell me the significance of his song “Alright” as it relates to current events and American society today. I know you won’t, because it’s clear you have no desire to understand any of this, but plenty of energy to criticize it. Reminds me of those hate groups we’ve been hearing a lot about here in the U.S. Besides, you probably wouldn’t be able to figure out the rhythms anyway, but it would be a good exercise for you and your personal growth.

      Also, how easy and simple to say that the jury decided to be trendy and go with something popular. The panel consisted of intelligent, highly-accomplished, experienced and inspiring artists. You truly believe they sat around that desk and decided, let’s go with Kendrick because he’s hot right now? I’m literally laughing out loud at how silly that suggestion is. You simply just don’t understand and you’re not interested in understanding either. You should really be embarrassed for writing that publicly.

      And Norman, you know exactly what you were doing when you posted that photo of Regina Carter. I see you.

      Someone commented on Twitter that Slippedisc is like Breitbart for classical music and I have to agree after reading this thread.

      • David R Osborne says:

        Hey Allison, you and I are on the same side in this one and for the most part yours is a great comment, but I am going to have to disagree with you about the Slipped Disc/ Breitbart comparison, I think that is grossly unfair.

        Don’t get me wrong, SD is not perfect, but what it does provide is a forum for people to freely discuss classical music in a way that would have been unthinkable not all that long ago. And gloriously, it matters not whether you’re a disgruntled audience member in the cheap seats, a teenage keyboard warrior, a famous conductor, a renowned Dutch composer or his Boulez loving PA, everyone’s opinion is of equal value here.

        Given the entrenched problem this art-form has with it’s long tradition of stifling debate and enforcing accepted truths, how can that not be a good thing? And if it takes a few click-baity head-lines to kick things off, we can live with that. There’s an enormous diversity of opinion in this comments thread alone, maybe you should read some of it?

        • Allison Loggins-Hull says:

          Fair enough, and you’re not wrong. My point (and this is one small point of many more important ones that I made), is that several of these comments (certainly not all), have a Breitbart tone.

  • Scotty says:

    All of this handwringing from us wrinkly old stick-in-the-muds about a prize that is not specifically a classical-music prize going to a pop artist when the real scandal was how the committee twisted itself into a pretzel to circumvent its own rules and award the first non-classical (in this case jazz) Pulitzer to Wynton Marsalis. The fix was in!

  • Candace Allen says:

    Since this expressed existential outrage shows no signs of diminishing: a discussion in the Washington Post with a youthful “classical” composer


    • John Borstlap says:

      I stopped reading at: “….. who I’ve known since college, and who introduced me to musicians such as John Cage.” That disqualifies the so-called ‘classical composer’ for any sensible opinion. Cage was not a musician, let alone a composer. So, the point is self-defeating – anybody wholeheartedly embracing the Pulitzer decision, exposes him/herself irredeemably.

  • Elena Burns says:

    I would like to see the Pulitzer Committee make an award to a Country and Western artist. Do you think that will happen anytime soon? Or how about a rock artist? You won’t see that anytime soon. There’s lots of terrific popular music they didn’t even consider. So, because rap is popular we should start giving it awards? Why don’t we give the next Pulitzer to Katy Perry. Lots of folks like her music, she wins plenty of Grammy awards, so why not a Pulitzer for her? Or how about a retrospective Pulitzer for the Notorious BIG or Tupac Shakur? How about something for Flavor Flav. He wears that clock really well!

    • Jimmie Nickerson says:

      All of this hatred shown toward a single winner is ridiculous. Where was all this get-up-and-go when the Pulitzer spent the entirety of its history snubbing jazz? One of the most influential genres in history and the only true equal of classical? I mean John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Herbie Handcock, etc have never won a Pulitzer? Where is the outrage? Another point of importance is how pretty much no one who actually LISTENS to KL believes DAMN was worthy. Go to a hip hop page and all you will see is people complaining about how GKMC or TPAB deserves it more (which I agree with). Go listen to TPAB and tell me that it is not a legitimate work of art. Maybe not your speed, but art nonetheless.

  • William Safford says:

    I freely admit that hip-hop is not my cup of tea, but I refuse to slam my mind shut as you have done.

    Just for fun, here’s a review of a Kayne West concert by a classical composer who has been in the news as of late:


  • Wendell Eatherly says:

    “Pulitzer jury: No contemporary classical work was prizeworthy”

    Did the jury actually say that? I doubt it. Just because one work is chosen, doesn’t mean the others aren’t “prizeworthy” (whatever that means in this context). Mr. Lebrecht does seem to think Lamar’s work isn’t “prizeworthy”

    “Perhaps they would care to elucidate their criteria?”

    Or not. Here’s what it says on the FAQ page of the Pulitzer Prize website:

    “4. What are the criteria for the judging of The Pulitzer Prizes?

    There are no set criteria for the judging of the Prizes. The definitions of each category (see How to Enter or Administration page) are the only guidelines. It is left up to the Nominating Juries and The Pulitzer Prize Board to determine exactly what makes a work “distinguished.””

    Awards/Halls of Fame for artists are a bit silly in any case, don’t you think? Bach and Mozart aren’t any worse for not having them.

  • Haydn70 says:

    To attempt to validate such garbage with the Pulitzer is simply the latest assault in the ongoing Marxist war on Western culture.

    Through their control of numerous social and political institutions (particularly academia) Marxists have unfortunately been extremely effective in waging this war which has resulted in–in the arts–the destruction of standards of beauty, technique and taste.

    And thus this absurd award bestowed on a creator of trash by a group of latter-day Philistines.

    I will close by quoting John Borstlap’s first post which is spot on:
    “Obviously, it was a politically-correct decision, in an attempt to surf on the wave of populism, helping – with a symbolic gesture – the tyranny of the majority to exterminate any trace of the idea of artistic quality which is, in the equalized world view, an unfair barrier of professionalism that should be removed so that also the underdeveloped can share in the glamour of art, without needing to acquire the necessary capacities.”

    • Leopold Tobisch says:

      Good luck with your holy crusade against the uncultured Marxist philistines that litter your field of cultural purity… Clearly you are one of the lucky few who remain untarnished and untouched by the poisonous control of these elusive and mysterious “Marxists” (might as well call them Illuminati at this stage), congratulations!

      May your standards of beauty, technique and taste remain forever pure and out of the reach of the “underdeveloped”, as your dear John would call them.

  • Header says:

    Yup virtue signaling on how progressive and liberal they are. Society is in a freefall.

    • Haydn70 says:

      Spot on! Yes, sadly society is in a freefall with standards in all areas of life being destroyed.

      To think that the decision to award the Pulitzer to such garbage was anything other than political is absurd.