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UD musicians garner national awards
Four members of the University of Delaware Department of Music have been recognized with American Prize honors, which are awarded to the best in the performing arts in the United States.
The American Prize, founded by composer and conductor David Katz almost a decade ago, honors artists in categories encompassing large and small organizations, from professional orchestras and community-based ensembles to individual artists and student musicians.
Recognized this year were
• the UD Symphony Orchestra and James Allen Anderson, director of orchestral studies;
• Christopher Nichols, assistant professor of clarinet;
• Michael Knight, currently completing a temporary assignment as assistant professor of music and Wind Ensemble conductor; and
• Daniel Despins, a senior composition major.
“These awards are well-deserved and significant personal achievements, and a great distinction for the department, said Russell E. Murray Jr., who chairs the Department of Music. “They also reinforce what we already know -- that the department’s faculty and students are among the best in the nation and that a UD education in music is a great opportunity.”
This year, the UD Symphony Orchestra reached the finals in the category of Orchestral Performance (college/university division), and James Allen Anderson, director of orchestral studies, was a finalist in the Conducting, Orchestra Division (college/university division).
In 2015-16, the Symphony Orchestra and the UD Chamber Orchestra under Anderson’s direction won the top honor -- The American Prize in Orchestral Programming Maestro Vytautas Marijosius Memorial Award (college/university division). That season’s programming included “Blue like the sky” with compositions by Jennifer Higdon, Brahms and Crusell; “An Evening of Opera: Overtures, Arias and Ensembles” featuring works by Massenet, Mozart, Puccini, Bizet and Strauss; and the Cinema Symphony Series performances of the 1925 silent film classic, Phantom of the Opera, and Charlie Chaplin at the Symphony.
“I’m incredibly honored,” Anderson said, “and it’s great to have the acknowledgment of my peers that we’re doing something interesting with our programming.”
Anderson is known for doing something interesting with programming. In planning every season, he looks at ways to balance variety in styles, genres, time periods, nationality and faculty collaboration, and he looks for thematic elements that may not be immediately obvious. For fall 2015’s “Blue like the sky …” he paired works that feature the clarinet: Contemporary American composer and flutist Jennifer Higdon wrote blue cathedral in honor of her late brother, who played clarinet. The piece includes several solo sections for flute and clarinet that work in dialogue together. Romantic-era German composer Johannes Brahms was one of the earliest champions of the clarinet, and he featured it in many of his works, including his Symphony No. 2 in D Major. Bernhard Henrick Crusell was a Finnish composer of the Classical era, and his Clarinet Concerto No. 2 in F Minor featured as soloist Christopher Nichols, assistant professor of clarinet at UD.
Christopher Nichols, assistant professor of clarinet, was honored with third place in Instrumental Performance (professional division) in the second year that the American Prize has included this category.
His submissions of Paul Harvey’s Etude After I Got Rhythm, Aurelio Magnani’s Elegia and John Cage’s Sonata for Clarinet show technical skill in the contrasting styles of jazz, lyrical and abstract.
Nichols said he agrees with Murray that the honors are a good avenue for UD to reach beyond the region and grow its national reputation. As a musician, Nichols said he always looks for opportunities to learn and advance. In addition to the recognition, he appreciates the detailed feedback and critique from the judges, and that the different divisions make the American Prize something he can encourage his own students to aim for.
In the community
Michael Knight, who is completing a temporary appointment as assistant professor of music and Wind Ensemble conductor, won second place in Band/Wind Ensemble Conducting (community/school division) for his work with the St. Norbert Community Band in De Pere, Wisconsin, which he conducted before coming to UD last fall.
Senior composition major Daniel Despins won third place in Chamber Music Composition (student division).
According to Jennifer Barker, professor of composition, "Dan is a highly talented young composer whose own unique compositional voice is already evident and well-heeled. The fact that he placed so well in such a tough national competition speaks volumes to the strength of his compositional craft, unique compositional voice and the high degree of musicality in his music.”
Barker also explained that the support the department — both faculty and students — provide for each other is a key element of Despins’ placement. His composition, Medusa, was recorded by one of the department’s faculty ensembles, Christiana Winds, with Eileen Grycky, flute; Jeff O'Donnell, oboe; Christopher Nichols, clarinet; John David Smith, horn; and Lynn Moncilovich, bassoon.
Last year Christiana Winds collaborated with Barker and her studio in an informal presentation of student-composed quintets. “Dan’s Medusa was outstanding. In fact it was such a fine piece that we decided to program it on one of our upcoming concerts. Dan’s piece was met with great enthusiasm by the audience, and we were delighted to be able to support this gifted young composer,” Grycky said. This is the recording that Despins submitted to the American Prize.
“There are few educational institutions in the country which offer the level of support for young composers and for new music that we witness here at UD. It is one of our great strengths; a strength without which Dan's win would not have been possible," Barker said.
The same is true for the entire music program at UD. “The collegiality and support evident among the faculty and students is one of the department’s best qualities,” Murray added.
About the American Prize
The American Prize is a series of nonprofit national competitions in the performing arts providing cash awards, professional adjudication and regional, national and international recognition for the best recorded performances by ensembles and individuals each year in the United States at the professional, college/university, church, community and secondary school levels. Administered by Hat City Music Theater Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Danbury, Connecticut, the American Prize was founded in 2009 by David Katz and is awarded annually. The competitions of The American Prize are open to all U.S. citizens, whether living in this country or abroad, and to others currently living, working and/or studying in the United States of America, its protectorates and territories.
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