PETERBOROUGH — The MacDowell Colony will award composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim its 54th Edward MacDowell Medal on Sunday, Aug. 11.
This marks the first time an artist has been chosen from the realm of musical theatre.
The composer and lyricist of such titles as “A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum” (1962), “Sweeney Todd” (1979), “Sunday In The Park With George” (1984), and “Assassins” (1991) joins a notable list of past medal recipients, including Robert Frost (1962), Georgia O’Keeffe (1972), Leonard Bernstein (1987), and Alice Munro (2006).
“This is not only a wonderful honor, but a sort of homecoming to me, as I spent much of my piano-playing childhood beginning with ‘To a Wild Rose’ and working my way up to the Second Piano Sonata,” said Sondheim of the works of Edward MacDowell, for whom the medal is named. “I feel both flattered and gratified.”
Born in 1930, Sondheim has had a long and storied career. His work also includes “Company” (1970), “Follies” (1971), “A Little Night Music” (1973), “Into the Woods” (1987), “Passion” (1994), and “Road Show” (2008), plus lyrics for “West Side Story” (1957) and “Gypsy” (1959). He has won more than 60 individual and collaborative Tony Awards, an Oscar for Best Song of 1999 for “Sooner Or Later” from the film “Dick Tracy,” and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1984 for “Sunday In The Park With George.”
“I speak for all of us on the selection committee in saying that we are thrilled that Stephen Sondheim will be the first recipient of the Edward MacDowell Medal to be honored for work in the field of musical theater,” said author and New York magazine Writer-at-Large Frank Rich, chairman of the Edward MacDowell Medal Selection Committee, who will introduce Sondheim at the ceremony.
Also on the selection committee were composer and author Mary Rodgers Guettel, director and playwright James Lapine, and MacDowell Colony Chairman and author Michael Chabon.
In film, Sondheim composed the scores of “Stavisky” (1974) and co-composed “Reds” (1981). In 1983 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which awarded him the Gold Medal for Music in 2006. In 1990 he was appointed the first visiting professor of contemporary theatre at Oxford University and was the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993. Sondheim is on the council of the Dramatists Guild, the national association of playwrights, composers and lyricists, having served as its President from 1973 to 1981.
In 1981 he founded Young Playwrights Inc. to develop and promote the work of American playwrights aged 18 years and younger. His collected lyrics with attendant essays have been published in two volumes: “Finishing the Hat” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010) and “Look, I Made A Hat” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011). In 2010 the Broadway theater formerly known as Henry Miller’s Theatre was renamed in his honor.
Chabon, a MacDowell Fellow, will present the Medal along with Susan Davenport Austin, president of The MacDowell Colony Board of Directors, and Executive Director Cheryl Young. The Edward MacDowell Medal is rotated among the artistic disciplines practiced at the artist colony established in Peterborough in 1907 by American composer Edward MacDowell and his wife and pianist Marian MacDowell.
The award will be presented to Sondheim in a public ceremony during the annual Medal Day celebration on Sunday, Aug. 11, beginning at 12:15 p.m. at the MacDowell Colony grounds at 100 High St. in Peterborough.