USA Theater Arts Panel for 2006

Philip Bither

William and Nadine McGuire Senior Curator of Performing Arts, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN

Emilya Cachapero (Chair)

Director of Artistic Programs, Theatre Communications Group, New York, NY

Marc Masterson

Artistic Director, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Louisville, KY

Wesley V. Montgomery

Managing Director, New WORLD Theater, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA

Josephine Ramirez

Vice President of Programming and Planning, Music Center, Los Angeles, CA

Statement by Wesley V. Montgomery

The craft of making music is defined by its process—one-on-one sessions with master teachers, hours upon end in practice rooms and studios, months and years of performing night after night—all supporting the belief that with time and experience comes mastery. The art of music making, however, is defined by specific moments and events: the creation of a work in which an original voice is born, the performance in which the perfect set comes together, or the collaboration in which an idea is made exponentially greater by the addition of another sympathetic artistic mind. The winners of this year’s USA Fellowships in Music—John Luther Adams, Natividad Cano, Bill Frisell and Jim Woodring, Ali Akbar Khan, and Lourdes Pérez—have given us many of these great musical moments.

Cano and Khan are towering figures in their respective traditions of mariachi and Indian classical music. For well over half a century, they have come to define these genres through performance and, more lastingly, through teaching. That California is now viewed as a musical center for these diverse traditions has everything to do with their efforts. Thousands of musicians have come through Kahn’s institute in Northern California. Cano’s ensemble, Los Camperos, has brought together hundreds of mariachi musicians and fostered an environment in which dozens of ensembles dedicated to this music thrive.

An artist whose work is built on musical traditions of Central America and the Caribbean but is firmly of today is the chanteuse Lourdes Pérez. Describing the challenges and inequities of life in the contemporary world, she wraps her messages in familiar forms. The effect is music that is both strong and comforting, both generous and direct.

Adams’s vast sonic landscapes and the subtle interplay of voices sounding from Frisell’s guitar are immediately identifiable musical signatures. These artists collaborate across genres and media, as can be seen in the haunting dialogues between Frisell’s sound world and Jim Woodring’s drawings, to create bodies of work that are simultaneously original and indescribably American. The listener hears Alaska in much of the music of Adams. One is drawn into the sinuous musical dialogues of Frisell.

Stylistically these artists could not be more dissimilar. This is a reflection of the great diversity of music being produced in this country every day. This award recognizes excellence, and by any standard the recipients have demonstrated this throughout their careers.