Aaron Copland. Samuel Barber. John Adams. And now, Caroline Shaw. Shaw, 30, today joined the elite fraternity of American composers to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music for her Partita for 8 Voices, which she wrote for vocal group Roomful of Teeth, of which she's a member. In doing so, she became only the fifth woman and the youngest-ever recipient of the award since its debut in 1943. It's also, happily, the first-ever Pulitzer for New Amsterdam Records, which put out the album the day before Sandy wreaked havoc on its Red Hook studio.
For those with short memories, the Pulitzer Prize—long considered this country's most prestigious composition prize —was hijacked for decades by a cabal of white men, all from the school of difficult music better appreciated than heard. Things had gotten so bad that by the time Adams won the award in 2003 for On the Transmigration of Souls, he expressed "ambivalence bordering on contempt," because "most of the country's greatest musical minds" have been ignored in favor of academic music.
Much like when Bang on a Can's David Lang won his Pulitzer in 2008 for the little match girl passion, or Steve Reich the following year for Double Sextet, Caroline's prize signals that its a new day for American music. I mean, this is a composition that was premiered not in a concert hall, but at a contemporary-art museum. And, it's damned tasty, too.
Congrats, Caroline. Hope you're able to squeeze in a little celebration after your ACME rehearsal tonight.