The server for “About Last Night” melted down seconds after this year’s Pulitzer Prizes were announced, making it impossible for me to post immediately, as I’d planned to do. The crash was particularly irksome in light of the fact that three of the prizes were deeply and personally satisfying to me:
– Paul Moravec, a great composer (and I don’t use that adjective lightly) whose music I’ve championed for years, won for Tempest Fantasy, a five-star masterpiece which has just been recorded (watch this space for details).
If you think all modern music is ugly and meaningless, you haven’t heard Moravec’s. He’s one of a group of composers I’ve dubbed the New Tonalists, and he figures prominently in A Terry Teachout Reader, where I quote him as follows: “Trying to compose beautiful things, I say what I mean and mean what I say. The irony in my work is not glibly postmodern, but rather the essence of making audible the experience of fundamental paradox and ambiguity.” Beautiful is definitely the word: I can’t think of another classical composer of the baby-boom generation whose work means more to me. The Pulitzer committee, which has a famously bad track record when it comes to music, has done itself proud this year. (Incidentally, I just saw on the wires that the other finalists for this year’s music prize were Steve Reich and Peter Lieberson.)
Says jazz composer Maria Schneider, a Moravec fan: “YAY!” I couldn’t have put it better myself.
– Anne Applebaum won the general nonfiction prize for Gulag: A History, a National Book Awards finalist (I was one of the NBA judges). Most of you probably know about Applebaum and Gulag by now, so I’ll say only that I regard it as one of the most important American books of the past quarter-century, regardless of genre. It’s handsomely written and brutally honest–no small achievement, either, considering the longstanding unwillingness of so very many influential people to acknowledge the horrible truths set forth by Applebaum in such unsparing detail. It’s damned well about time.
If you haven’t read Gulag, you must.
– Doug Wright won the drama prize for I Am My Own Wife, a play I’ve been touting with wild abandon ever since I first saw it last year. “This show deserves every prize there is,” I wrote in The Wall Street Journal when it transferred to Broadway. For now, this one will do quite nicely.
Here’s part of what I wrote about the original off-Broadway production:
I don’t begrudge Vanessa Redgrave her well-deserved Tony for “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” but simple justice compels me to add that the best actress currently appearing in New York is neither on Broadway nor a woman. It’s Jefferson Mays, the star of Doug Wright’s “I Am My Own Wife,” off-Broadway’s latest dispatch from the wilder shores of gender identity, in which Mr. Mays plays Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, an East German transvestite with more than one secret under her skirt….
Not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Doug Wright met Charlotte, the 65-year-old owner of an East Berlin museum of knickknacks from the 1890s. Mr. Wright saw “her” as a gay hero, a courageous changeling who had “navigated a path between the two most repressive regimes the Western world has ever known–the Nazis and the Communists–in a pair of heels,” and started interviewing her with the intention of writing a play. Sounds earnest, no? But as Mr. Wright discovered, Charlotte was no hero: To save her own skin, she became an informer for the East German secret police, going so far as to turn in one of her best friends.
Everything about “I Am My Own Wife” is outstanding, from Mois