Music jury angry that Pulitzer board ignored its choice

April 10, 1992|By Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- Chicago's most prominent and controversial composer, Ralph Shapey, has emerged at the center of a cultural flap over why he didn't win this year's Pulitzer Prize for music.

The contretemps erupted Tuesday, when the Pulitzer board announced that Wayne Peterson had won the award for his symphonic work, "The Face of the Night, The Heart of the Dark." In an unusual move, the board had overruled the choice of the nominating jury, which unanimously had selected Mr. Shapey's "Concerto Fantastique."

This kind of public feud often has surrounded Mr. Shapey's work, which has made friends and foes alike for its uncompromising severity. To his fans, his work is thrilling in its adventurousness and unflinching dissonance. To the casual listener, however, the music can seem abstract, harsh and utterly unmelodic.

"Frankly, I don't know what happened," said Mr. Shapey, about the Pulitzer decision.

The Pulitzer music jury, which nominates three candidates from the dozens that are submitted, told the board in a March 20 letter of its unanimous decision.

The Pulitzer board balked. "Several members said: 'Please ask the jury to come forth with more nominations,' " said Pulitzer board member Walter Rugaber, publisher of the Roanoke (Va.) Times & World News, Wednesday.

According to jury chairman George Perle, Mr. Rugaber asked the music jury for another nominee, and it complied, but only because it believed it was listing a runner-up.

Following Tuesday's announcement, the three members of the music jury fired off an angry letter:

"The Pulitzer Prize Board's action . . . is especially alarming because it occurred without consultation and without knowledge of either our standards or rationale," wrote the jury, which comprised Indiana University music professor Harvey Sollberger, composer Roger Reynolds and Mr. Perle, a previous Pulitzer winner.

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