The MacDowell Colony, the nation’s leading artist residency program, will present it 51st Edward MacDowell Medal to composer and saxophonist Sonny Rollins on Sunday, August 15. The MacDowell Medal has been awarded annually since 1960 to individuals who’ve made outstanding contributions to their fields, and this year marks the first time the Colony has recognized the field of jazz. Rollins joins an impressive list of past recipients, including Leonard Bernstein, Alice Munro, I.M. Pei, Merce Cunningham and Georgia O’Keefe.
The award ceremony will take place on the MacDowell Colony grounds in New Hampshire, and will be open to the public. Robert MacNeil, chairman of the the MacDowell Colony will award the medal after jazz critic Gary Giddins, this year’s presentation speaker, introduces Rollins to the audience.
“I’m proud and pleased to be selected to receive this very special prize,” Rollins said. “Edward MacDowell’s spirit engaged me many years ago when, as a child, I was inspired by his composition ‘To a Wild Rose.” Later I had the opportunity to make it a part of my repertoire, performing it on many occasions and eventually recording it. Somehow I feel I’m getting to meet him again.”
In naming Rollins the 2010 Medalist, Giddins, also chairman of this year’s Medalist Selection Committee, said, “Much as the MacDowell Colony represents to countless artists a matchless paradise for inspired, uninterrupted creativity, this year’s medalist represents the zenith of his art. Perhaps more than any other artist since World War II, Sonny Rollins has personified the fearless adventure, soul, wit, stubborn individuality and relentless originality that is jazz at its finest. From the time he began recording, at 19, he was recognized as a major talent. His innovative approach to the tenor saxophone was endlessly copied, and his original compositions frequently adapted. But in jazz, composer and performer are often one and the same, and perhaps his key achievement has been the forging of an improvisational method that has given the idea of theme-and-variations a renewed vitality. His singular music is at once reassuring in its fortitude and daring in its detours. Incapable of faking emotion or settling for rote answers to the challenges of creating music in the moment, he keeps us ever-alert to the power of the present.”
Since the inception of the Edward MacDowell Medal, the Colony has rotated it among its seven artistic disciplines. Rollins is the 14th medalist in music composition, but the very first in the field of jazz. He follows such luminaries as Aaron Copland (1961), Edgard Varese (1965), Roger Sessions (1968), William Schuman (1971), Walter Piston (1974), Virgil Thomson (1977), Samuel Barber (1980), Elliott Carter (1983), Leonard Bernstein (1987), David Diamond (1991), George Crumb (1995), Lou Harrison (2000) and Steve Reich (2005).
In its 102-year history, MacDowell has provided Fellowships to more than 950 composers, including Bernstein and Copland, as well as other well-known artists such as Anthony Davis, Lukas Foss, Meredith Monk, Paul Moravec, Ned Rorem and Duncan Sheik. These composers are part of the more than 6,500 artists from all disciplines who have worked at the Colony, including playwrights Thornton Wilder and Suzan-Lori Parks; visual artists Benny Andrews and Milton Avery; writers Willa Cather, Alice Walker and Alice Sebold; and architects Les Robertson and Tom Kundig.
Following this year’s Medal Day ceremony, guests can enjoy picnic lunches on Colony grounds. MacDowell artists-in-residence will then open their studios to the public from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. There is no charge to attend Medal Day.
Rollins will resume his 2010 performance schedule in April, with concerts in Detroit (4/6), Chicago (4/9), Boston (4/18), Seattle (5/10), Berkeley (5/13), Los Angeles (5/16), Davis, CA (5/19), and Burlington, VT (6/12). He’ll appear at the Winnipeg (6/23), Montreal (6/27), North Sea (7/11), Perugia (7/16), and Molde (7/20) Jazz Festivals, and will perform three concerts in Japan in early October. A European tour is being finalized for November. Rollins is also planning a special New York concert around his September 7th birthday and expects to announce details by early spring.