Composer and Philadelphia native Aaron Jay Kernis is the recipient of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra’s 2014 A. I. du Pont Award.
Established in 1985, the award recognizes a distinguished living American composer or conductor who has made a significant contribution to contemporary classical music. Previous recipients have included Jennifer Higdon, Joan Tower, Richard Wernick, George Walker, Michael Daugherty and Christopher Rouse.
Kernis will accept the $5,000 prize at the DSO’s final chamber series concert on April 1 at 8 p.m. at the Hotel du Pont. The program will include a performance of his “Musica Celestis,” the second movement of his first string quartet, completed in 1990.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us as members of this institution to be able to celebrate composers who are making the important contributions to the international music scene,” said DSO Music Director and Conductor David Amado. “That connects us with a much larger music world and that’s very exciting for a place like Wilmington, which is a small city.”
Communication ‘without boundaries’
Kernis is one of the most celebrated and prolific composers of his generation. He has received honors from ASCAP, BMI, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation and the New York Foundation of Arts. In 1984, he won the Rome Prize enabling him to study in Europe.
In 1998, he became the youngest composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music and four years later became the youngest person to win the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition. In 2012, he was awarded the Nemmers Prize in Music Composition from Northwestern University. More recently, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Kernis’ music figures prominently in orchestral, chamber and recital programs worldwide. Some of the most esteemed institutions and artists have commissioned his work, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, soprano Renee Fleming, superstar violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Antony De Mare.
“I’m very fortunate that I’m having works played around the world so I get to interact with audiences and learn a bit about them,” said the 54-year-old Kernis, who also teaches composition at the Yale School of Music.
Musically, Kernis has been described as a neo-Romantic, a postmodernist, an eclectic and a minimalist with comparisons to Leonard Bernstein, Gustav Mahler and Igor Stravinsky. He employed rigorous compositional techniques until the early 1980s when his style became freer and more intuitive.
In the early 1990s his style took on a more emotional quality, as in the exquisite “Musica Celestis.” His musical language is both personal and expansive, drawing on elements of Latin rhythms, rap and jazz as well as Romanticism, the Renaissance and the chants of the 12th century German composer and philosopher Hildegard von Bingen.
“I’m always writing for myself because first of all, I’m the one that needs to be happy with what I’m writing,” he said. “But I’m also experiencing my own music as a listener in the concert hall, so I’m really concerned about the experience and the communication of that experience without having boundaries.”