The sound of the Pulitzer Prize
If you tune in for WFCR's classical music Wednesday morning at 9:00 sharp, the first thing you'll hear may astound you. It may amuse you. It may confuse you, for a moment. And ultimately, it may — and I think will — delight you. Rather than spoil the surprise by describing it, which would be a pretty tough job anyway, I'll just tell you that it's called "Allemande," and that it's the first of four movements from the Partita for 8 voices by composer, violinist and singer Caroline Shaw. And oh, by the way, it just won the Pulitzer Prize for Music.
What's a post-modern "alt-classical" piece like this doing winning an ultra-traditional prize like the Pulitzer? In fact, the prize has gone to some outré sounds in recent years, including avant-garde jazz legend Ornette Coleman's album "Sound Grammar" and post-modern pioneer David Lang's "The Little Match Girl Passion." There's another connection to David Lang: Both the musicians' collective Lang co-founded, Bang on a Can, and the singing group in which Shaw peforms (and which you'll hear doing her Partita), Roomful of Teeth, have done residencies at Mass MoCA, that bastion of iconoclastic coolness. (The Partita, in fact, was inspired by one of the fabulous Sol LeWitt line drawings currently on display at Mass MoCA.) One might say "credentialed coolness" in the case of both Lang, who earned a DMA from Yale, and Shaw, who's currently a doctoral fellow at Princeton. But that's the modern cultural scene for you, one in which you can earn fancy degrees and win big prizes for this kind of thing. Better the Langs and the Shaws than the stuffy, unlistenable junk that the academy spewed out and the Pulitzer awarded in previous decades, I should think.
So what is Shaw's Partita about? Does it touch on any of the big bad themes that might endear it to a prize committee — war, death, climate change, capitalism? Not that I can tell. Which is one reason I like it so much. It's just music. About music. And that's plenty good for me. Please tune in on Wednesday and on the next several days, and let me know whether you agree.
P.S. Congratulations also to UMass alum and one-time guest blogger Matthew Whittall for winning the Finnish equivalent of the Pulizter, the Teosto Prize, for his "Dulcissima, clara, sonans." It's a stunning piece that, should it ever be recorded, we'll be all over on WFCR.