Classical Music's Awards Season Heats Up

Friday, April 11, 2014 - 05:00 PM

With Hollywood's award season safely behind us, the classical music field is getting into the red carpet act – figuratively speaking. This Monday marks the announcement of the Pulitzer Prize, arguably the most high-profile composition award around, and the one that gets mainstream media attention: since Pulitzers are also awarded for journalism, nearly every newspaper in the United States covers them faithfully every year.

This past week saw enough classical music awards to keep a trophy manufacturer in business, starting on Monday with the second annual International Opera Awards, whose London ceremony is loosely patterned off of the Oscars or Tony Awards. On Tuesday came both the Rome Prize in composition and the $1 million Birgit Nilsson Prize (to the Vienna Philharmonic, a highly controversial choice).

Thursday brought two more: the Martin E. Segal Awards (given to the Jack Quartet and tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana) and the $50,000 Richard Tucker Prize (to the tenor Michael Fabiano who in February won the Met Opera's Beverly Sills Award, also valued at $50,000).

With its greater visibility, the Pulitzer has been a periodic lightning rod. It has been a decade since the Pulitzer Prize board – responding to ongoing criticism that the awards were too narrow in scope – announced rule changes designed to expand beyond classical concert music, to include jazz, musical theater, film scores and other genres. Since 2004, the awards have honored one jazz score (Ornette Coleman’s "Sound Grammar," in 2007) but they have otherwise stuck close to Western classical forms. Last year, however, the committee did make a surprising selection in the Partita in 8 Voices by Caroline Shaw, a 30-year-old singer and violinist and a virtual unknown outside of new-music circles.

If one thing is for certain, the $10,000 Pulitzer is not among the top-paying awards. Below is an infographic on the most lucrative prizes in classical music. Click on separate categories for composition and performers.

Updated 4/12 to reflect the correct amount of the Pulitzer Prize, which is $10,000.

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