Cliff Colnot, distinguished conductor, composer, arranger and educator, is the recipient of the 2016 Ditson Conductor’s Award for the advancement of American music, Columbia University has announced.
The prize was presented Saturday evening, October 8, at the Harris Theatre of Music and Dance in Chicago during the six-day series of concerts, Ear Taxi: Chicago Festival of New Music, of which the Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University was the initiating sponsor. Paul Moravec, advisory committee member of the Ditson Fund and 2004 Pulitzer Prize winner in music, and a Columbia University alumnus in composition, bestowed the award. Colnot received $5,000 and a citation on behalf of Columbia’s President Lee C. Bollinger.
Augusta Read Thomas, composer, University Professor at the University of Chicago, visionary creator and leader of the Ear Taxi Festival, and also Ditson Fund advisory committee member, said “Cliff is a beloved Chicago hero. As a result of Cliff’s ability, generosity and perseverance, he is training, inspiring and mentoring generations of current and future composers, musicians and lovers of music. Cliff deeply understands and supports the richness of the music of our time.”
Fred Lerdahl, Fritz Reiner Professor of Musical Composition at Columbia and Secretary of the Alice M. Ditson Fund, said “Conductor Cliff Colnot is legendary among contemporary composers for his superb musical ear, his ability to learn a new work quickly and rehearse it efficiently, and his instinct for finding just the right tempo and interpretive tone.”
In 1940 the Alice M. Ditson Fund was established by Columbia to make grants “for fellowships, public hearings and publication of the work of talented musicians, and to encourage public performance of the music of gifted contemporary American composers.” The fund established the Ditson Conductor’s Award in 1945. It is the oldest continuing award honoring conductors for distinguished contributions to American music. Previous recipients include James Levine, Christopher Keene, Mstislav Rostropovich, Leonard Bernstein, Gunther Schuller, Eugene Ormandy, Harold Rosenbaum, and last year, John Mauceri.
In acknowledging Colnet’s contributions, President Bollinger’s citation states: “Maestro Colnot, you have conducted innumerable premieres and performances of a large, diverse, and distinguished group of American composers. Your advocacy of this enriching music and your meticulous preparation in bringing scores to life is exemplary. Thanks to your dedication, the rich nuances of every composition are revealed.
You are a musician of uncommon range, and your work with younger players is outstanding. You served as assistant conductor for Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Workshops for young musicians from Israel, Egypt, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries. You worked extensively with the late Pierre Boulez and served as his assistant conductor at the Lucerne Festival Academy. You have also served as principal conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s contemporary MusicNOW ensemble since its inception; principal conductor of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and as principal conductor of the University of Chicago’s Contempo Ensemble. Currently, you conduct the DePaul University Symphony Orchestra and Wind Ensemble. You have appeared as a guest conductor with professional orchestras all across America.”
Colnot graduated with honors from Florida State University and in 1995 received the Ernst von Dohnnyi Certificate of Excellence. He has also received the Alumni Merit Award from Northwestern University, where he earned his doctorate. In 2001 the Chicago Tribune named Cliff Colnot a Chicagoan of the Year in music, and in 2005 he received the William Hall Sherwood Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Arts. He has studied with master jazz teacher David Bloom and has taught jazz arranging at DePaul University. He also teaches advanced orchestration at the University of Chicago and film scoring at Columbia College. As a bassoonist, he was a member of the Lyric Opera Orchestra of Chicago, Music of the Baroque and the Contemporary Chamber Players.
See https://ditsonfund.org/conductors-award for a list of all previous winners of the Ditson Conductor’s Award.