James Baker Wins 2023 Ditson Conductor’s Award

James Baker, distinguished percussionist, composer and conductor, is the recipient of the 2023 Ditson Conductor’s Award for the advancement of American music, Columbia University has announced. The prize will be presented on Tuesday, March 28th at the Talea Ensemble’s world premiere concert of works by Anthony Cheung, Louis Karchin and Tyshawn Sorey at 7:30pm at the Mary Flagler Cary Hall (450 West 37th St, New York, NY 10018). Fred Lerdahl, renowned composer, Fritz Reiner Professor Emeritus of Musical Composition at Columbia University and Secretary of the Alice M. Ditson Fund, will present the award. Baker will receive $5,000 and a citation on behalf of Columbia’s President Lee C. Bollinger.

The Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University established the Conductor’s Award in 1945. It is the oldest continuing award honoring conductors for distinguished contributions to American music. Previous recipients include David Zinman, Alan Gilbert, George Manahan, Leonard Bernstein, Cliff Colnot, Marin Alsop, Oliver Knussen, Brad Lubman, and, last year, Delta David Gier.

Mr. Lerdahl said, “James Baker’s musicality, technical mastery, and collegiality make him a musician’s conductor par excellence. He has an extraordinary record of premiering hundreds of new works by both well-known and emerging composers.”

James Baker is Principal Percussionist of the New York City Ballet Orchestra. Mr. Baker is Principal Conductor of the Percussion Ensemble at Mannes College of Music. He was Music Director and Conductor of the Composers Conference at Brandeis University for 14 years. He was conductor of the New York New Music Ensemble. This season he is conducting the Grossman Ensemble at the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition at the University of Chicago, New York City Ballet, Klangforum Wein and Talea at the Vancouver New Music, Donaueschingen and Warsaw Autumn, and Time of Music Finland festivals. He has conducted the Orchestra of the League of Composers, American Composers Orchestra, the Slee Sinfonietta at the Institute for 21st Century Music in Buffalo, Speculum Musicae, the New York Philharmonic Chamber Ensembles, Ensemble ACJW at Carnegie Hall, the Cygnus Ensemble, the Decoda Ensemble, the Ensemble Tactus at the Manhattan School of Music, Ensemble 21, Ensemble Moderne Akademie, Musica Nova at the Eastman School, Axiom at the Juilliard School, and De Capo among many others.

He has conducted at the Darmstadt, Wein Moderne, Warsaw Autumn, Donaueschingen, Transit Belgium, Time Spans, Contempuls Prague, June in Buffalo, Nouvelles Voix Royaumont, reMusik St. Petersburg, Russia, Contempo Chicago, Musikprotokoll Graz and Beijing Modern Music Festivals.

He has both played and conducted at the Bang on a Can Marathon and conducted at the Monday Night Concerts in Los Angeles and Fromm concerts at Harvard. He has conducted a number of Composers Portrait Concerts at Miller Theater in New York, including those of Pierre Boulez (where he led the US premier of Derive II), Toru Takemitsu, Jason Ekardt, John Zorn, and Chou Wen-Chung.

Mr. Baker was for many years a conductor of Broadway shows, conducting for the King and I, The Sound of Music, The Music Man, Oklahoma, and An Inspector Calls among others.

See https://ditsonfund.org/conductors-award for a list of all previous winners of the Ditson Conductor’s Award.