Meredith Monk 2017 Recipient

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“Magician of the Voice” Meredith Monk to Receive the 24th Annual Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize

Trailblazing Composer, Singer and Interdisciplinary Artist Will Be Honored at October 26 Award Ceremony at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

New York, NY [September 19, 2017] — The Gish Prize Trust today announced that the widely influential, utterly inimitable Meredith Monk has been selected to receive the 24th annual Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, in recognition of her ongoing achievements as a composer, singer and interdisciplinary artist. Established in 1994 through the will of legendary stage and screen actress Lillian Gish, known as the First Lady of Cinema, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize is one of the most prestigious honors given to artists in the United States and bears one of the largest cash awards, currently valued at approximately $250,000.

The Gish Prize is given each year to a highly accomplished artist from any discipline who has pushed the boundaries of an art form, contributed to social change and paved the way for the next generation. The selection committee for the 2017 Gish Prize chose Monk from among more than 66 outstanding finalists in the fields of visual and performing arts, literature and arts administration. Monk now joins a list of honorees that includes Elizabeth LeCompte, Suzan-Lori Parks, Maya Lin, Anna Deavere Smith, Spike Lee, Trisha Brown, Laurie Anderson, Frank Gehry, Peter Sellars and Bob Dylan. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. administers the award as trustee of the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize Trust.

The Gish Prize will be presented to Monk on the evening of Thursday, October 26, 2017 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), which has been the site of many of her notable performances. The private ceremony, attended by leaders of the arts community and her fellow artists, will include remarks by Joseph V. Melillo, Executive Producer at BAM; Kristy Edmunds, Executive and Artistic Director of the Center for the Art of Performance at the University of California, Los Angeles and former Consulting Artistic Director for the Park Avenue Armory in New York; and trumpeter, santur player, vocalist and composer Amir ElSaffar, a musician of a younger generation whose boundary-crossing work shares similar aspirations to Monk’s. Performances will feature Meredith Monk joined by members of Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble including Theo Bleckmann, Katie Geissinger and Allison Sniffin to perform “Choosing Companions” from her 1991 opera, ATLAS, as well as selections from her newest music-theater work in progress, Cellular Songs, with Ms. Geissinger, Ms. Sniffin, Ellen Fisher and Jo Stewart. Adam Clark, Managing Director; Global Head of Trust & Estates, J.P. Morgan Private Bank, will also say a few words.

Meredith Monk said, “I am humbled and grateful to receive the Gish Prize. It’s exceptional for being a prize that a great artist decided to give to other artists, and even more special for the values that Lillian Gish expressed when she said it should recognize contributions to ‘the beauty of the world.’ I believe, as she did, that art can be a healing force, a source of light during dark times. With boundless admiration for her, and profound respect for the artists who received this prize before me, I am thrilled to have been chosen for this one-of-a-kind award.”

Hailed by The Times of London as “a magician of the voice,” Meredith Monk has previously received awards including the National Medal of Arts, presented by President Barack Obama; a MacArthur Foundation fellowship; two Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowships; three Obie awards; two Bessie awards; the 2012 Composer of the Year award of Musical America; an inaugural Doris Duke Artist Award; and the Yoko Ono Lennon Courage Award for the Arts. She was appointed in 2014-15 to the Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall and in 2015 was installed as an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters of the Republic of France. She has received honorary Doctor of Arts degrees from institutions including The Juilliard School, the Boston Conservatory, Mount Holyoke College, the San Francisco Art Institute and Bard College. In 2010, NPR selected her for its special international series 50 Great Voices, naming its segment on her “Meredith Monk: A Voice for All Time.”

Commenting on the decision to award Meredith Monk the 2017 Gish Prize, Janet Sarbaugh, head of the Prize selection committee said, “Meredith Monk’s work is a true gift to the world. Her focus on the primacy of the human voice is universal and feels both ancient and completely modern. The immersive new worlds that she creates provide a space for dreams, visions and a balm for the human spirit in a fragmented and contentious world. The expansiveness of her creations and her seamless weaving together of many art forms perfectly connect her to the spirit of the Gish Prize. The Prize selection committee is excited to announce her as this year’s winner.”

The selection committee for 2017 comprised Richard Armstrong, Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation; Mario Garcia Durham, President and CEO of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP); Amir ElSaffar, trumpeter and composer; Joseph V. Melillo, Executive Producer at BAM; and committee chair Janet L. Sarbaugh, Vice President-Creativity and Senior Program Director for the Arts & Culture Program for the Heinz Endowments. Dr. Alberta Arthurs serves as consultant to JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. for the Gish Prize.

Speaking for JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., Adam Clark stated, “With the help of our esteemed selection committee, we have continued to support Lillian Gish’s vision of recognizing and celebrating those artists who have made an indelible impact through their work. In choosing Meredith Monk, this year’s committee underscores the mission of the Prize to recognize and encourage the power of art to resonate on the deepest human level, across all borders. We congratulate Meredith Monk on receiving this high honor.”

Meredith Monk (b. 1942) was born in New York City and attended Sarah Lawrence College. In 1968, she founded The House, a company dedicated to an interdisciplinary approach to performance, and in 1978 she founded Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble to expand her musical textures and forms. As a pioneer in site-specific performance, she has created such works as Juice: A Theatre Cantata In 3 Installments (1969) and Ascension Variations (2009) for the Guggenheim Museum, and American Archeology #1: Roosevelt Island (1994). Her award-winning films, including Ellis Island (1981) and her first feature, Book of Days (1988), have been seen throughout the world, and her music is featured in films by directors including Jean-Luc Godard, Terrence Malick, David Byrne and the Coen Brothers. Her new work Cellular Songs is the latest in a series of music theater pieces exploring humanity’s interdependent relationship with the natural world, while seeking to evoke the ineffable. Joined by the women of her acclaimed Vocal Ensemble, Monk combines some of her most adventurous and daring vocal music to date with movement, theatrical images, light, and film to create a work that looks to underlying systems in nature that can serve as a prototype for human behavior in our tumultuous world.

About The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize

Established in 1994 through the will of Lillian Gish, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize is given annually to an individual who has “made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.” Past recipients are Elizabeth LeCompte, Suzan-Lori Parks, Maya Lin, Spike Lee, Anna Deavere Smith, Trisha Brown, Chinua Achebe, Pete Seeger, Robert Redford, Laurie Anderson, Shirin Neshat, Peter Sellars, Ornette Coleman, Bill T. Jones, Lloyd Richards, Jennifer Tipton, Merce Cunningham, Arthur Miller, Isabel Allende, Bob Dylan, Robert Wilson, Ingmar Bergman, and Frank Gehry. Prize recipients are nominated by the arts community and chosen by a distinguished committee of arts leaders for their groundbreaking work in their chosen fields. For further information, visit

About Dorothy and Lillian Gish

Dorothy and Lillian Gish followed their mother onto the stage at an early age. The older of the two sisters, Lillian took her first theatrical curtain call in 1902 at the age of eight in the play In Convict’s Stripes. In 1912, the sisters’ childhood friend Mary Pickford introduced them to D.W. Griffith, who launched their film careers. Lillian would become one of America’s best-loved actresses and is considered by many the First Lady of the Screen. In her 85-year career, she appeared in more than 100 films—from Griffith’s An Unseen Enemy (1912) to Lindsay Anderson’s The Whales of August (1987)—and also took numerous roles in television and on stage. Dorothy Gish began her stage career at the age of four and also went on to make more than 100 films, many of them with Lillian. Dorothy’s early work in film highlighted her keen sense of humor, bringing her acclaim as a star of comedy. At the end of the silent era, she turned her attention to the stage, where success in Young Love brought her accolades with New York audiences, on the road and subsequently in London. In 1939 Dorothy and Lillian each played Vinnie Day, wife of Clarence Day, Sr., in two extensive American road company productions of Life with Father. Dorothy returned to film and television in the 1950s. Upon her death in 1968, Dorothy Gish left the bulk of her estate to the arts. Lillian Gish died in 1993 and also left the bulk of her estate to the arts, including a trust for the formation of the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize.

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Photo by Julieta Cervantes

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