Jeremy Denk, a classical pianist with a literary streak, is among the winners of the 2013 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "genius" grants.
Denk and 23 other recipients each will receive a stipend of $625,000, paid in annual installments over five years. The stipend represents an increase from last year's sum of $500,000. This year's fellows range in age from 32 to 60 and include people in a range of creative endeavors.
Other artist winners include Vijay Iyer, a jazz composer and pianist; Kyle Abraham, a dancer and choreographer; and Alex Ratmansky, a choreographer with American Ballet Theater.
The MacArthur Foundation cited Denk’s work as a soloist, chamber musician and a thoughtful programmer who finds "unexpected pairings of pieces in recital programs and recordings” and “often draws out surprising themes and continuities between historically and stylistically disparate works.”
The foundation also praised Denk’s activities as a writer of liner notes, magazine articles (for the New Yorker and the New Republic) and a blog, called Think Denk.
The 43-year-old Denk lives on the Upper West Side and teaches piano at the Mannes College of Music and the Bard College Conservatory. He tours regularly and has released several recordings including a new album of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. In November, Denk is scheduled to perform with the San Francisco Symphony at Carnegie Hall, a performance that WQXR will broadcast live.
Denk told WNYC's Soundcheck on Wednesday that he got the call from the MacArthur Foundation while using a Stairmaster at the gym. "I was drenched in sweat," he said. "I don't know if they were trying to tell me that I should go to the gym more often." Denk also revealed to host John Schaefer that he is writing a book due out next August, an expansion on a recent New Yorker article.
This is the first year in recent history with two pianists as MacArthur winners. Vijay Iyer, 41, is known foremost in jazz circles but his music spans many styles and disciplines. He has composed works for the American Composers Orchestra, the string quartet Ethel and the Silk Road Ensemble. In 2011 he created Mozart Effects, commissioned by Brentano String Quartet as a response to an unfinished fragment by Mozart.
The MacArthur Foundation called Iyer "an ardent investigator of musical communities, practices, histories, and theories," who "mines core rhythmic, melodic, and structural elements from a wide range of sources to construct richly varied, improvisation-driven solo and ensemble music."
"What was nice about the award is they're embracing my whole body of work," Iyer told Soundcheck. "It includes my trio albums and classical chamber music kinds of works too."
Here is Iyer's trio performance recorded at the World Financial Center Winter Garden last October, originally presented on Q2 Music:
Other MacArthur winners this year include a computer scientist, an audio preservationist, an atomic physicist, an immigration lawyer and a novelist.
If you could nominate a MacArthur 'Genius,' who would you name? Below: watch Jeremy Denk perform a Cafe Concert at WQXR with Joshua Bell