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John Adams's 9/11 Work Wins 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Music

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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 piece."

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 would suggest."

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.

Additional Resources:

Read an interview with Adams about the work
John Adams on WNYC