Extra! Extra! It’s the Same Old Same Old!

Over at New Music Box, Frank Oteri is rather amusingly astonished at the silence greeting the announcement that, after all the talk about the music Pulitzers changing their focus and allowing jazz and film music, this year’s prize went to one of the usual suspects, Steven Stucky. Stucky is one of those orchestra-circuit guys who’s such an obvious shoo-in for that prize that my immediate reaction was, “Wait, hasn’t he won it before?” I guess not, though his reported reaction was aptly blasé, like, “Oh, gee, forgot it was that time of year already .” There’s a group of composers who have the circuit of big-league orchestra commissions in their pocket, and despite the occasional surprise winner like Henry Brant, that crowd owns the music Pulitzer. The question for them is not whether, but when. Like Jennifer Higdon: why’d they pass up her Concerto for Orchestra, and how many more years will it be? Where’s Tobias Picker’s Pulitzer? Augusta Read Thomas’s? Roberto Sierra’s? They’re coming.

But two factoids Frank came up with made my eyes bug out. One was that he listed this year’s judges, which I always thought had been a well-kept secret: composer Christopher Rouse, conductor David Zinman, music critic Mark Swed, jazz composer Muhal Richard Abrams, and last and least, octogenerian composer Gunther Schuller, whose conservative tastes and vast behind-the-scenes influence have single-handledly cast a pall over this nation’s music for decades. So that’s how the “opening up” works: put Abrams on the panel as the token jazz guy, and when a jazz score comes through, he can vote for it. Woo hoo!, we’re liberal now.

Even more surprising was the statistic that only about 100 pieces a year get nominated, and that the total this year went up to 135 – allegedly because of the more “open” rules, although only four jazz scores were submitted and no film scores. 100 pieces a year? I hear a lot more new works than that, probably five times as many back in my heyday at the Voice. Given the stuffed shirts who think their chance at this lottery is worth a $50 admission ticket, that’s probably a pretty glum 100 pieces, and I doubt that I could find a better piece to honor in that turnout than the judges usually do. So it makes me wonder: What if 700 Downtown composers all submitted pieces for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize? Just absolutely overwhelm them with entries. Might an enjoyable piece of music actually win?…

Nahhh, just a fantasy.