Peabody faculty member wins award

Christopher Theofanidis gets British Masterprize for his `Rainbow Body'

November 06, 2003|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The people and the professionals have spoken - and awarded Peabody Institute faculty member Christopher Theofanidis the 2003 Masterprize for his orchestral work Rainbow Body. Theofanidis returned to the Baltimore campus yesterday fresh from his victory in this unique international composition competition in London, where he received the prize of 25,000 British pounds (about $42,000). His colleagues in Peabody's composition department, including Peabody director Robert Sirota and British-born composer Nicholas Maw, surprised him with a champagne toast.

Theofanidis, who joined the Peabody faculty in 2000 and also teaches at the Juilliard School in New York, won out over four other finalists in the competition. He got the nod from an unusual jury - noted conductors, musicians, orchestra and festival managers, and the president of a major record company, as well as from thousands around the world who voted online after downloading a performance of Rainbow Body. Those who attended the finals concert performed by the London Symphony Orchestra last week also got to vote, as did the orchestra members themselves.

"There are a lot of prizes in composition attached to academic circles," Theofanidis, 35, said yesterday. "But this one gets a certain legitimacy that's different from the others. It's all about connecting to the public."

Masterprize, founded by British businessman John McLaren to help boost appreciation for new music, has previously been given in 1998 and 2001. His idea is that music business professionals and ordinary listeners make better judges than composers or critics; the latter, he feels, routinely dismiss new music that people actually like.

As if to prove McLaren's point, the British press has taken a dim view of Masterprize. The Independent blasted the award on Tuesday for becoming "a search for the lowest common denominator" that has so far "produced nothing but trite and profoundly unoriginal orchestral fodder." The Guardian called Masterprize "a triumph of hype over content" and dismissed Rainbow Body as "arty resonance effects" leading to "a noisy, tub-thumping ending."

In this country, Rainbow Body, a beautifully crafted fantasy on a chant by medieval composer Hildegard von Bingen, has enjoyed considerable success, including a well-received recording by the Atlanta Symphony earlier this year.

Theofanidis may not have won over the press in England, but he will be smiling all the way to the bank.

"I am so happy to have such a large block of money that I can save," he said. "That has been such a rare event in my life." He won't save all of it, though. "I plan to do something extravagant for my wife and my mother."

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