NEW YORK -- Composer and conductor John Adams won the Pulitzer Prize for music
on Monday for a 30-minute work for chorus, children's chorus, orchestra, and
taped sounds that was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic as a memorial
to the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
On the Transmigration of Souls incorporates texts from the missing-persons
signs posted around New York City in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe
and from remembrances of the victims taken from the New York Times "Portraits
of Grief" series.
The work received its world premiere in September 2002, in a performance broadcast
on WNYC. The program also featured Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and it marked
Lorin Maazel's inaugural concert as the orchestra's music director.
"Composing Souls was a serious and very humbling experience for me, and
any honor that receiving the Pulitzer Prize may afford should be shared with
families of those who were lost on September 11 in New York," said Adams
in a prepared statement. "I'll always be indebted to those New Yorkers
who so generously allowed me to use their words and remembrances to create this
Adams has a history of taking on difficult subject matter. Among his previous
works are Nixon in China, which portrays President Nixon's trip to China, and
Death of Klinghoffer, a meditation on the 1985 killing of a handicapped American
Jew by Palestinian guerrillas aboard the cruise ship Achille Lauro.
Adams is also enjoying a rise in popularity. Lincoln Center is in the midst
of a three-month festival of his music, billed as the biggest New York festival
ever devoted to a living composer, and in September he begins a three-year stint
as Composer-in-Residence Chair at Carnegie Hall.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported Tuesday that Adams was less enthusiastic
about the award itself, which has generally gone to composers with close ties
to the musical establishment, rather than to those with an experimental bent.
"Every year I continue to be disappointed that the Pulitzer has stayed
stylistically within such a narrow bandwidth of mainly academic music,"
he told the Chronicle. "It doesn't carry much prestige amongst the composers
that I know.
"I hope that over the years, the people who administer the prize will
accept that American music is a far more universal art form than the past history
The other finalists for the music prize were the multimedia stage work "Three
Tales," by Steve Reich and "Camp Songs" by Paul Schoenfield,
which draws on the tuneful Jewish traditions of klezmer music.
Read an interview with Adams about the work
John Adams on WNYC