The American soprano Dawn Upshaw has won the coveted MacArthur Foundation Genius Award. Presented each year to individuals who make significant contributions to the arts, sciences, and social welfare, the award comes with an annual five year grant of $100,000 which the recipient may use at their discretion. Upshaw was selected for her commitment to commissioning and nurturing the work of living composers. I first heard this wonderful soprano in 1984 at the New York’s Metropolitan Opera in a relatively minor role in Moussorgsky’s Khovanschina. (That production was conducted by Neemi Jarvi, not yet the international podium star he was to become.) At the time she was a member of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artists Program. Even then, she stood out for her pure, silvery vocal timbre, exquisite musicianship, and fervent delivery. It was obvious that she would not be doing small roles for long. Indeed her Mozart heroines became a mainstay of the Met and other major international houses. From the start, her vocal recitals always featured the works of American composers, John Harbison being a particular Upshaw favorite. (Harbison would compose the female lead in his opera The Great Gatsby for her.) In recent years Upshaw has transformed herself into a contemporary music specialist. She has commissioned and/or championed scores by Harbison, John Adams, Kaija Saariaho, Henryk Gorecki, and Osvaldo Golijov. She has also championed the great American songbook from Bernstein, Blitzstein, and Bolcom to Kern, Berlin, Weill, and Duke. Last season she collaborated with Harbison in a workshop for emerging American composers and vocalists at Carnegie Hall. In recent years she hasturned to teaching, training a new generation of singers at Bard College and Tanglewood. Upshaw’s commitment to gifted creative artists is unique. In typical fashion, she has stated she would use the bulk of the MacArthur Foundation grant to commission and record new vocal music. Upshaw has also become known as the “non-diva” – a good colleague and sensitive human being. This MacArthur Foundation Genius Award is well deserved recognition of one of America’s finest and most innovative vocalists. Congratulations to Dawn Upshaw – a true artist! 

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