On April 16th, Dubuque’s Michael Gilbertson taught a morning class at San Francisco Conservatory, joined a colleague for a lunch meeting, then saw a warm but puzzling text message. It was congratulating him, and he didn't know why. The texts and calls kept coming, and the reason soon emerged: the Pulitzer committee had announced the winners of its annual Music prize, for "a distinguished [composition] by an American," and Michael was one of the three finalists. He'd had no idea that he was even under consideration. Nobody did, for that matter, except the Pulitzer panel, which listens to 180 nominees in its semifinals but keeps mum about who they are. That policy surely makes life easier not only for the panelists but also for musicians, since the prize is a far bigger deal in classical music and jazz than the Grammy Awards. Previous Pulitzer winners in Music include Aaron Copland, Ornette Coleman, Jennifer Higdon, and Wynton Marsalis, and finalists include John Adams, William Bolcom, and Steve Reich.
Soon major media started calling, as they rarely do for a Music finalist, but their questions for Michael were mostly about the winner. That's because it was Kendrick Lamar, the first hip-hop artist to receive the music Pulitzer. Michael was able to speak thoughtfully about his work, and would do so often in the coming weeks.
I asked Michael about all this yesterday when he brought his colleagues from ChamberFest Dubuque to Cedar Falls for their annual IPR live set. In the short clip above, you can hear Michael talk about the Pulitzer, the Quartet it honored, Kendrick Lamar, the creative process and how Michael's craft was enriched by his Iowa musical education. You can also hear the Iowa premiere of his work Low Hanging Fruit, performed by his remarkable colleagues from ChamberFest Dubuque - cellist Bridget Pasker (also from Dubuque), pianist David Fung, violinist Hanah Stuart, and clarinetist Zach Mani. It’s an excerpt from a longer studio broadcast - more is coming!
If you’re anywhere near Dubuque, make sure to attend the final concert Thursday night at 7:00 at Clarke University in Dubuque, and their public workshop at 5:30 tonight (Wednesday) at Clarke. It’s not only a chance to hear extraordinary musicians, it also supports an excellent cause. Michael founded ChamberFest Dubuque in 2009 to raise funds for his alma mater, Northeast Iowa School of Music, which had been hurt by the great recession of 2007-8. Michael, then a student at Juilliard, asked some of his classmates to come home with him to give a benefit concert, and it became an annual fundraising event. Since 2014, he’s also brought these colleagues to IPR for preview sets (some links are below).