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Yaddo Composer George Tsontakis Wins Prestigious Charles Ives Award

George Tsontakis
George Tsontakis
Photo by David Ludwig

- Yaddo composer George Tsontakis is the fourth winner of the Charles Ives Living, which gives a talented composer an income of $75,000 a year for a period of three years, for a total of $225,000, it was announced Wednesday by Ezra Laderman, president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Mr. Tsontakis, Distinguished Faculty Composer-in-Residence at Bard College, will begin the three-year term in July, 2007. He has been a guest artist at Yaddo more than a dozen times, beginning in 1985 and most recently this past spring, and is a Director of The Corporation of Yaddo.

Although the Charles Ives Living winner agrees to forgo all salaried employment during the award period, there is no restriction on accepting composing commissions. In accepting the award, Mr. Tsontakis said, "I felt a complex mixture of emotions, a bit giddy with exhilaration, yet at almost the same moment a realization that there was a message attached to the gesture, in that a serious rededication to my work was beckoning. I am excited, and very grateful to the Academy for this wonderful gift to my music, as well as moved by my colleagues for their vote of confidence in my work. The Ives Living will impact not only the next three years but the rest of my life; I only hope that I might be able to live up to its message."

Mr. Laderman, also a composer, said, "The selection of George Tsontakis follows in the Ives Living tradition which identifies a composer of enormous talent who is on the threshold of becoming a household name. What Iíve always admired about him is that he idealizes Beethoven in his music; in every work he includes a quote from a Beethoven work, such as the Egmont Overture or the Fifth Symphony. His music is both intellectually demanding and highly accessible, a rare and wonderful combination if you can pull it off. George does."

David Del Tredici, a member of the selection committee and a fellow Yaddo composer, said, "George Tsontakisís music is full of heart, a quality that erases boundaries as it satisfies and enriches the soul."

The purpose of the Ives Living is to free a promising American composer from the need to devote his or her time to any employment other than music composition. The intention of the award is to provide an income sufficient to ensure that freedom for a period of three years.

The Charles Ives Living was inaugurated in 1998 and is part of a trio of awards made possible by a gift from Harmony Ives, the widow of Charles Ives, who gave the Academy the royalties from her husbandís music to establish a fund for prizes in music composition. Since 1970, the Academy has given 200 Ives scholarships, and since 1983, 32 Ives fellowships. Those awards continue to be given annually. Previous winners of the Charles Ives Living include Yaddo composer Chen Yi and Martin Bresnick and Stephen Hartke.

The award selection committee studied scores and recordings over a six-month period before deciding on Mr. Tsontakis. Committee Chair William Bolcom said, "There are a slew of awards for young composers. There arenít nearly enough for composers who have gained a solid reputation, who are in mid-career and sorely in need of more time to compose. For the last thousand years, only a handful of composers have actually made a living from their craft. For someone like George Tsontakis, the Charles Ives Living affords precious and well-deserved time to create. It is a great boon to him and potentially to American music."

Nominations for the Academyís awards come from the 250 members of the Academy Ė painters, sculptors, architects, writers, and composers; no other nominations or applications are accepted, with the exception of the Richard Rodgers Awards for Musical Theater. Academy members are not eligible to receive monetary awards. The American Academy of Arts and Letters, chartered by Congress, was established in 1898 to "foster, assist, and sustain an interest in literature, music, and the fine arts."