Tyshawn Sorey Wins Pulitzer Prize

Composer and jazz drummer Tyshawn Sorey, a Presidential Assistant Professor of Music, won the 2024 Pulitzer Prize in Music for Adagio (For Wadada Leo Smith). Fittingly for a musician who defies categorization and has a penchant for slow pulses [“Time Stretcher,” Sep|Oct 2023], the Pulitzer committee celebrated the composition for saxophone and orchestra as “an anti-concerto”— a “quietly intense” work that “treasure[s] intimacy rather than spectacle.”

Commissioned by the Lucerne Festival and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the piece had its US premiere in March 2023 at Atlanta Symphony Hall. The 20-minute composition combines a broad textural palette with an expansive dynamic range that goes from triple piano to triple forte. “Sorey’s writing for the solo sax,” wrote music journalist Jari Kallio after the world premiere in Lucerne, Switzerland, exemplifies “another brand of virtuosity, one wrought of long lines, where each note is given its singular identity; a procedure akin to the playing of the concerto’s dedicatee as well as the tintinnabulations of Arvo Pärt.”

“Concertos are usually showcases for dazzling displays of virtuosic technique,” the prize announcement observed. “This work requires a great deal of technique, but of a much more subtle variety. Instead of rapid-fire outbursts of sixteenth or thirty-second notes the soloist and orchestra are asked to play at the glacial tempo of 36 quarter notes per minute.” 

Sorey, who joined Penn’s music faculty in 2020, has garnered a reputation as a hands-on teacher in his work with graduate and undergraduate students. His course offerings have ranged from composition theory seminars to the survey “Thinking About Popular Music.” Meanwhile he is an in-demand jazz drummer, composer, and performer/collaborator.

“Tyshawn is a very special musician in terms of how deeply he lives inside music,” reflected pianist Sarah Rothenberg, who performed Sorey’s Monochromatic Light (Afterlife)—a finalist for the 2023 Pulitzer Prize—in Nate Chenin C’97’s feature-length 2023 Gazette profile of Sorey. “His pieces are a kind of environment that one lives in.”

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