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UW-Madison composer wins national music award

March 24, 2009

A University of Wisconsin–Madison associate professor recently was honored with a music award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Laura Schwendinger, an associate professor of composition at the UW–Madison School of Music, was one of a group of 16 composers honored by a panel of distinguished members of the academy. Schwendinger received one of the two prestigious Goddard Lieberson Fellowships, given to mid-career composers of exceptional gifts. The fellowship includes an unrestricted monetary award of $15,000, and Schwendinger plans to use a portion of the award toward a new CD recording of her solo piano music performed by Christopher Taylor, an associate professor of piano at the School of Music.

This year Schwendinger is on leave from full-time teaching to devote her time to composing, the result of winning a 2008 Guggenheim Fellowship. The Guggenheim Foundation made 190 awards to artists, scientists and scholars from the United States and Canada from more than 2,600 applicants. She has spent the past two weeks as a visiting artist at the American Academy in Rome and the Orion Ensemble of Chicago will be presenting three performances of her High Wire Act in March. A forthcoming program at Bargemusic in Brooklyn will feature a performance of her music by pianist Jenny Lin in May.

Schwendinger, the first composer to receive the prestigious American Academy in Berlin Prize in 2000, has received a wealth of commissions from organizations and performers and has written for a variety of instruments, voices and ensembles. In the spring of 2007, Cellist Matt Haimovitz performed the premiere of “Esprimere”with the UW Symphony Orchestra under the direction of James Smith, professor of instrumental conducting and director of orchestras at the School of Music, and in March 2008, violinist Jennifer Koh gave the premiere of “Chiaroscuro Azzurro,” a “pocket concerto” commissioned by the Miller Theatre at Columbia University.

Previous highlights in Schwendinger’s multi-faceted career include performances and a recording of “in Just- spring” by the internationally acclaimed soprano Dawn Upshaw with renowned pianist Gilbert Kalish. Schwendinger’s “String Quartet,” a Harvard Musical Association commission, received its premiere by the Arditti Quartet in 2003. Her works have been performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, Symphony Space in New York, the Berlin Philharmonie Kammermusiksaal, the Tanglewood and Ojai music festivals and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, among many other venues.

At UW–Madison, Schwendinger received the H. I. Romnes Award from the Graduate School in 2008, providing $50,000 research support and intended for exceptional faculty who have received tenure within the past four years.

Two years earlier, she received the Emily Mead Baldwin-Bascom Professorship in the Creative Arts from the UW–Madison Arts Institute.

Schwendinger is the artistic director of the UW Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, whose programs feature performances of 20th and 21st century music by student and professional composers. She was previously an associate professor of composition and theory at the University of Illinois at Chicago, a lecturer at the music departments of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Smith College and a faculty member in the Preparatory Division of the San Francisco Conservatory.