Composer Andrew Norman is the winner of the 2017 Grawemeyer Award, a weighty prize of $100,000, for music composition. The Los Angeles–based composer was recognized for his 47-minute, three-part orchestral work “Play,” inspired by “how technology has rewired our brains and changed the ways we express ourselves,” Norman writes.
The piece was premiered in 2013 by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, which commissioned the work, and a recording was later released on the ensemble’s own label. Most recently, it was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition, and last month the Los Angeles Philharmonic gave its premiere of the revised version.
“‘Play’ combines brilliant orchestration, which is at once wildly inventive and idiomatic, with a terrific and convincing musical shape based on a relatively small amount of musical source material,” Marc Satterwhite, award director, said in a statement. “It ranges effortlessly from brash to intimate and holds the listener’s interest for all of its 47 minutes—no small feat in these days of shortened attention spans.”
In an interview with NPR discussing his award, Norman used his platform to discuss other pressing issues. When asked about if he anticipates that the award will bring him more commissions, Norman said:
“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?”
Norman went on to call for more diversity, adding that the canon is “so overwhelmingly white and male,” but through new music, there is an opportunity 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,” he said. “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.”
Norman’s works have been performed by the LA Phil, the New York Philharmonic, and other ensembles worldwide. He won the Rome Prize, the Berlin Prize, the Guggenheim Fellowship, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 2012 for his string trio “The Companion Guide to Rome.” A ceremony for the Grawemeyer Award will be held in April 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky.