Meredith Monk 2017 Recipient

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Meredith Monk is a composer, singer, director/choreographer and creator of new opera, music-theater works, films and installations. Recognized as one of the most unique and influential artists of our time, she is a pioneer in what is now called “extended vocal technique” and “interdisciplinary performance.” Monk creates works that thrive at the intersection of music and movement, image and object, light and sound, discovering and weaving together new modes of perception. Her groundbreaking exploration of the voice as an instrument, as an eloquent language in and of itself, expands the boundaries of musical composition, creating landscapes of sound that unearth feelings, energies, and memories for which there are no words. Over the last six decades, she has been hailed as “a magician of the voice” and “one of America’s coolest composers.” Celebrated internationally, Monk’s work has been presented by BAM, Lincoln Center Festival, Houston Grand Opera, London’s Barbican Centre, and at major venues around the world. Recently Monk was named an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters by the Republic of France and the 2012 Composer of the Year by Musical America. In conjunction with her 50th Season of creating and performing, she was appointed the 2014-15 Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall. In September 2015, Ms. Monk received the National Medal of Arts from President Obama.

In 1968 Ms. Monk founded The House, a company dedicated to an interdisciplinary approach to performance. 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 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and American Archeology #1: Roosevelt Island (1994). Monk’s award-winning films, including Ellis Island (1981) and her first feature, Book of Days (1988), have been seen throughout the world. Her music can also be heard in films by such directors as Terrence Malick, Jean-Luc Godard, David Byrne, and the Coen Brothers. In addition to her numerous vocal pieces, music-theater works and operas, Monk has created vital new repertoire for orchestra, chamber ensembles, and solo instruments, with commissions from Carnegie Hall, Michael Tilson Thomas/San Francisco Symphony and New World Symphony, Kronos Quartet, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and Los Angeles Master Chorale, among others.

Since graduating Sarah Lawrence College in 1964, Monk has received numerous honors including the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” Award, two Guggenheim Fellowships, three “Obies” (including an award for Sustained Achievement), and two “Bessie” awards for Sustained Creative Achievement. More recently Monk was named one of National Public Radio’s 50 Great Voices, and received a 2012 Doris Duke Artist Award, a 2011 Yoko Ono Lennon Courage Award for the Arts, and an inaugural USA Prudential Fellow award in 2006. She holds honorary Doctor of Arts degrees from Bard College, Boston Conservatory, Cornish College of the Arts, The Juilliard School, Lafayette College, Mount Holyoke College, the San Francisco Art Institute and the University of the Arts. Monk has made more than a dozen recordings, most of which are on the ECM New Series label, including the 2008 Grammy-nominated impermanence and the highly acclaimed Songs of Ascension (2011) and Piano Songs (2014). Selected scores of her work are available through Boosey & Hawkes.

Among the many highlights of Monk’s performances from the last twenty years is her Vocal Offering for His Holiness the Dalai Lama as part of the World Festival of Sacred Music in Los Angeles in October, 1999. Several marathon performances of her work have taken place in New York at the World Financial Center (1991), Lincoln Center Music Festival (2000), Carnegie’s Zankel Hall (2005 and 2015), Symphony Space (2008) and the Whitney Museum (2009). In February 2012, Ms. Monk was honored with a remix and interpretations cd, MONK MIX, featuring 25 artists from the jazz, pop, dj and new music worlds. In March 2012, she premiered Realm Variations for six voices and small ensemble, commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony, and performed in John Cage’s Song Books as part of the symphony’s American Mavericks Festival. She is the subject of two recent books of interviews, Conversations with Meredith Monk, by arts critic and Performing Arts Journal editor Bonnie Marranca, and Une voix mystique, by French author Jean-Louis Tallon. Monk’s most recent music-theater piece, On Behalf of Nature, premiered in January 2013 at UCLA, and a recording of the work on ECM Records was released in November 2016. She is currently working on a new music-theater piece called Cellular Songs, to premiere in Spring 2018.

Selection Committee

Richard Armstrong – Richard Armstrong has served as director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation since November 2008. As head of the Guggenheim’s executive staff, he focuses on the pivotal role of the New York museum and its collection while also providing leadership and management for the other institutions in the global Guggenheim network and for the foundation’s international programs. Prior to his appointment at the Guggenheim, Armstrong served at Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, as curator of contemporary art, chief curator, and Henry J. Heinz II Director. From 1981 to 1992, Armstrong was a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, where he organized four Whitney Biennials, as well as important exhibitions on subjects such as the work of Richard Artschwager and The New Sculpture 1965–75. In 1980, he served on the Artists Committee to organize the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. He began his curatorial career at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art in California. Armstrong serves in an advisory capacity on a number of foundation boards, including the Victor Pinchuk Foundation, Kiev, Ukraine; the Artistic Council, Fondation Beyeler, Basel; the Al Held Foundation, New York; the Judd Foundation; and as Director, Fine Family Foundation, Pittsburgh. Armstrong is also a member of the Association of Art Museum Directors. A native of Kansas City, Missouri, Armstrong graduated from Lake Forest College with a BA in art history and studied at the Université de Dijon and the Université de Paris, Sorbonne.

Mario Garcia Durham – In October 2011, Mario Garcia Durham became the fifth President and CEO of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) since its founding in 1957. Prior to his leadership role with APAP, Mr. Durham was posted at the National Endowment for the Arts where he served as Director of Artist Communities & Presenting from 2004 – 2011. At the NEA, Mr. Durham contributed to programs such as An Evening of Poetry hosted by the President and Mrs. Obama and the NEA Opera Honors. He inaugurated the NEA’s Artist Communities granting program and was the initiator of Live from Your Neighborhood, a groundbreaking study of the impact of outdoor arts festivals in the U.S. After holding numerous management positions and serving as artistic director at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in the 1990s, he founded Yerba Buena Arts & Events in 2000, the producing organization of the annual Yerba Buena Gardens Festival. Throughout his career, Mr. Durham has served on numerous boards, special advisory committees and funding panels. He is currently on the board of the Alliance of Artist Communities and Data Arts. Durham serves as chair of the Performing Arts Alliance and had previously served on the APAP Board of Directors and Executive Committee. He is on the Community Advisory Council of the PBS station WETA in Washington, DC and on the American University Arts Management Advisory Council. A graduate of the University of Houston, Durham is passionate about a broad range of performing arts and evolving forms of performance and media arts.

Amir ElSaffar – American trumpeter and composer Amir ElSaffar manipulates tones, melody, and harmony with distinctive imagination, combining traditional jazz with Middle Eastern music to create jazz with a cross-cultural impact. ElSaffar’s customized techniques allowed him to create a microtonal harmonic system new to jazz, idiomatic to Arabic music and rarely heard on the trumpet. He is a noted interpreter of the classical Iraqi Maqam tradition, in which he performs both on the santur and as a vocalist. He currently leads four critically-acclaimed ensembles: Two Rivers, which combines the musical languages and instrumentation of Iraqi Maqam and contemporary jazz; the Amir ElSaffar Quintet, performing ElSaffar’s microtonal compositions with standard jazz instrumentation; Safaafir, the only ensemble in the US performing and preserving the Iraqi Maqam in its traditional format; and The Alwan Ensemble, the resident ensemble of Alwan for the Arts, specializing in classical music from Egypt, the Levant, and Iraq. In addition, he has worked with jazz legend Cecil Taylor, and prominent jazz musicians such as Mark Dresser, Gerry Hemingway, Marc Ribot, Henry Grimes, and Oliver Lake. ElSaffar has appeared on numerous recordings, and has released six under his own name, Maqams of Baghdad (2005), Two Rivers (2007), Radif Suite (2010), Inana (2011), Alchemy (2013), and Crisis (2015).

Joseph V. Melillo – Joseph V. Melillo, executive producer since 1999, is responsible for the artistic direction of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. During his tenure, BAM has enjoyed increases in both programming and audience attendance in its Harvey Lichtenstein Theater, Howard Gilman Opera House, Rose Cinemas, and BAMcafé. Prior to his current position, Melillo served as BAM’s producing director, following a six-year tenure as founding director of the Next Wave Festival. Melillo was recognized by the French government as a Chevalier (1999) and an Officier (2004) de L’ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France. In 2004, he was awarded an honorary OBE for his outstanding commitment to British performing arts in America. Melillo was appointed Knight of the Royal Order of the Polar Star in 2007, in recognition of his role in solidifying ties between the performing arts communities of Sweden and the United States, and in 2012 he was named cultural ambassador for Taiwan in recognition of his efforts to bring the arts of Taiwan to the US. He was awarded the title of Knight of the National Order of Québec in 2016. Melillo is also on the US Nominating Committee for the Praemium Imperiale. Melillo has served on the faculty of the Brooklyn College Graduate Program in Arts Management and on the boards of directors for the Association of Performing Arts Presenters and En Garde Arts. He was a panelist for the National Endowment of the Arts Dance Program and the New York State Council on the Arts, and served as Multidisciplinary Panel Chair of the Pew Fellowships in the Arts’ 2003 and 2007 Awards. He currently serves as a member of the International Arts Advisory Committee for the Wexner Prize. Melillo earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and theater at Sacred Heart University and a Masters of Fine Arts in speech and drama at Catholic University of America.

Janet L. Sarbaugh – Janet Sarbaugh is the Vice President-Creativity and Senior Program Director of the Arts & Culture Program for The Heinz Endowments, a private foundation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with assets of over $1 billion. Under Sarbaugh’s direction, The Heinz Endowments’ new Creativity program will focus on Creative Citizens, Creative Artists and Organizations, and Creative Places, and will build strong linkages to the Endowments’ Sustainability and Learning programs. The Creativity program distributes approximately $10.5 million annually. Prior to joining the foundation field, Ms. Sarbaugh was Assistant to the President at Chatham College in Pittsburgh. She holds a Bachelors of Arts from Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia; a Masters in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and a Masters Degree in Public Management from Carnegie Mellon University. Ms. Sarbaugh has served on the boards of Chorus America, Grantmakers of Western Pennsylvania, Americans for the Arts, Grantmakers in the Arts, the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, and Leadership Pittsburgh. She was named Pittsburgh’s number one cultural force by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2003. In 2011, she received the Greater Pittsburgh YWCA’s Tribute to Women Leadership Award in Arts & Culture.