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2023 Ives Opera Prize and Blitzstein Award Winners Announced

New York, January 12, 2023—The American Academy of Arts and Letters announces the winners of the 2023 Charles Ives Opera Prize and the Marc Blitzstein Memorial Awards. Operas were nominated by the Academy’s members, and winners chosen by a jury comprised of members John Harbison (chair), Anthony Davis, Tania León, Tobias Picker, and Shulamit Ran, who met in 2022. The awards, which will be given at the annual Ceremonial in May, “reflect the essential mission of the Academy to recognize, identify, and reward works of highest aspiration and superior craft by contemporary artists in our culture,” said Yehudi Wyner, a composer member and former president of the Academy.

Jury member Shulamit Ran commented, “Each and every one of the operas we reviewed could have been a winner in its own right. How exciting it was to see the unanimity amongst the jury members when it came to the final vote! Laura Elise Schwendinger and Missy Mazzoli, working with wonderful libretti by Ginger Strand and Royce Vavrek, respectively, are composers of distinctly different styles, each having her own very personal compositional voice, yet both writing music of passion and intrigue, taking the listener on an adventure.”

$50,000 Charles Ives Opera Prize for Artemisia


Laura Elise Schwendinger


Ginger Strand

The Charles Ives Opera Prize, made possible by the royalties to Charles Ives’s music, is being awarded to composer Laura Elise Schwendinger and librettist Ginger Strand, for Artemisia, their opera based on the life of 17th-century Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi. Artemisia premiered at the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble in 2019 and received an OPERA America Discovery Grant. As composer, Schwendinger will receive $35,000, and Strand, as librettist, will receive $15,000.

$10,000 Marc Blitzstein Memorial Awards


Missy Mazzoli


Royce Vavrek

Composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek will each receive a Marc Blitzstein Memorial Award of $10,000, which are given in the memory of Marc Blitzstein to composers, lyricists, or librettists to encourage the creation of works of merit for musical theater and opera. Mazzoli and Vavrek have collaborated on the operas Breaking the Waves, Proving Up, Songs from the Uproar, and The Listeners.

The American Academy of Arts and Letters was founded in 1898 as an honor society of the country’s leading architects, artists, composers, and writers. Early members include William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, Julia Ward Howe, Henry James, Edward MacDowell, Theodore Roosevelt, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, John Singer Sargent, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton. The Academy’s 300 members are elected for life and pay no dues.

In addition to electing new members as vacancies occur, the Academy seeks to foster and sustain an interest in Literature, Music, and the Fine Arts by administering over 70 awards and prizes totaling more than $1 million, exhibiting art and manuscripts, funding performances of new works of musical theater, purchasing artwork for donation to museums across the country, and presenting talks and concerts.


The first composer to win the American Academy in Berlin Prize, Laura Elise Schwendinger is a Professor of Composition at University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her music has been performed by world-class ensembles and artists including Dawn Upshaw, the Arditti and JACK Quartets, Jennifer Koh, Janine Jansen, Matt Haimovitz, Ariana Kim, the Lincoln Trio, International Contemporary Ensemble, Eighth Blackbird, the New Juilliard Ensemble, Boston Musica Viva, Collage New Music, Musiqa, Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Aspen New Music Ensemble, Indiana University New Music Ensemble, the American Composers Orchestra, and the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra, among many others, at venues including Kennedy and Lincoln Centers, Berlin Philharmonic Kammermusiksaal, Wigmore and Carnegie Halls, Miller Theatre, Théâtre du Châtelet, and Tanglewood, Aspen, Ojai, Ravinia, Talis, and Bennington Music Festivals, as well as the League of American Orchestras Composer in Residency with the Richmond Symphony. Her numerous honors include those from the Guggenheim, Koussevitzky, and Fromm Foundations; the Copland House, MacDowell, Yaddo, Bogliasco, and Bellagio fellowships; Harvard Musical Association, Chamber Music America, Radcliffe Institute, ALEA III, and two previous awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Her music has been described as “evince[ing] an acute sonic imagination and sure command of craft.” (Chicago Tribune), “darkly attractive, artful and moving…” (The New York Times), and “shrewd[ly] compos[ed], the genuine article. Onto the ‘season’s best’ list it goes.” (The Boston Globe). A SF Classical Voice review of her opera Artemisia, titled “Left Coast Chamber Ensemble Proves That Great Opera Needn’t Be Grand,” reads “Artemisia is sumptuous on every level.” Colin Clarke, reviewing her CD featuring the JACK Quartet (Fanfare), wrote “the sheer intensity of the music is spellbinding… as if the passion of the composer shines through like a light.”

Photo: Monika Graff

Ginger Strand is the author of one novel and three books of narrative nonfiction, most recently The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic (FSG). Her two opera librettos for composer Laura Elise Schwendinger use primary documents to illuminate the lives of women artists. She has published essays and fiction in many places, including Harper’s, The New Yorker, The Believer, Tin House, The Iowa Review, The New England Review, and the New York Times. Her nonfiction has won a Pushcart Prize and been recognized in both Best American Travel Writing and Best American Science and Nature Writing. In addition to writing frequently about collisions between nature, culture, science, and the arts, she frequently works with photographers, and has contributed essays to photography books by Lisa Kereszi, Joshua Dudley Greer, and the Magnum Agency project Postcards from America.

A former fellow in the Behrman Center for the Humanities at Princeton, Strand has received grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Mellon Foundation, the Eisenhower Foundation, and the American Antiquarian Society, as well as residency grants from MacDowell, Yaddo, the V.C.C.A., and the Center for Land Use Interpretation. She has been artist-in-residence at the Folger Shakespeare Library and Tin House writer-in-residence at Portland State University. She lives in New York City and the Catskill Mountains.

Photo: Caroline Tompkins

Recently deemed “one of the more consistently inventive, surprising composers now working in New York” (The New York Times) and “Brooklyn’s post-millennial Mozart” (Time Out NY), Missy Mazzoli’s music has been performed by the Kronos Quartet, LA Opera, New York Philharmonic, Eighth Blackbird, BBC Symphony, Norwegian National Opera, and many others. In 2018, she became one of the first two women, along with Jeanine Tesori, to receive a main stage commission from the Metropolitan Opera, and was nominated for a Grammy Award. From 2018-2021, she was Composer-in-Residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and from 2012-2015, was Composer-in-Residence with Opera Philadelphia. Upcoming commissions include works for Opera Philadelphia and the Lyric Opera of Chicago, among others. Her work is published by G. Schirmer.

Photo: Ricardo Beas

Royce Vavrek has been called “an exemplary creator of operatic prose” (The New York Times) and “one of the most celebrated and sought-after librettists in the world” (CBC Radio). His opera Angel’s Bone with composer Du Yun was awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Music. He is known for his collaborations with composers Missy Mazzoli (Song from the Uproar, Breaking the Waves, Proving Up, The Listeners); David T. Little (Dog Days, Am I Born, JFK); Ricky Ian Gordon (27, The House Without a Christmas Tree); Paola Prestini (The Hubble Cantata, Silent Light), and Mikael Karlsson (So We Will Vanish). Upcoming projects include commissions from the Royal Swedish Opera, Icelandic Opera, La Monnaie De Munt, Opera Philadelphia, Beth Morrison Projects, Against the Grain, and two world premieres for the Metropolitan Opera, including an adaptation of George Saunders’s Booker Prize-winning novel Lincoln in the Bardo with Missy Mazzoli. He is an alumnus of Concordia University (Montreal), NYU’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program, and American Lyric Theater’s Composer/Librettist Development Program.

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