Andrew Norman | Photo by Jessa Anderson
Andrew Norman | Photo by Jessa Anderson

Musical America’s 2017 Composer of the Year, Andrew Norman, has won the 2017 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition awarded by the University of Louisville. The $100,000 prize will be presented in April, when the award winners converge on Louisville to deliver free lectures.

Norman won for his 47-minute orchestral composition “Play,” which was commissioned by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, where he was composer-in-residence for two years. It was first performed and recorded in 2013. The composition was nominated for a 2016 Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition and has garnered considerable critical praise.

According to a news release, the composition “explores the relationship of choice and chance, free will and control. It investigates the ways musicians in an orchestra can play with, against, or apart from one another; and maps concepts from the world of video gaming onto traditional symphonic structures to tell a fractured narrative of power, manipulation, deceit and, ultimately, cooperation.”

Norman, 39, was born in Grand Rapids, Mich., and now lives in Los Angeles with his partner. He studied at the University of Southern California and Yale University. His composition “The Companion Guide to Rome” was a runner-up for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

“ ‘Play’ combines brilliant orchestration, which is at once wildly inventive and idiomatic, with a terrific and convincing musical shape based on a relatively small amount of musical source material,” said Award Director Marc Satterwhite in a news release. “It ranges effortlessly from brash to intimate and holds the listener’s interest for all of its 47 minutes — no small feat in these days of shortened attention spans.” 

“I think about the audience all the time,” Norman told Alex Ross, music critic at The New Yorker. “I wonder about what they expect, what the orchestra expects. I overhear what people say about my music at intermission, and I sometimes think, ‘Oh God, what did I just do to these people?’ But, ultimately, I can only write what I hear in my head. Once I finally get into the world of the piece, that’s the only world that matters.”

All 2017 Grawemeyer Award winners will be announced this week for outstanding works in music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology and education, and a religion prize jointly given with Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

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