The 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Music has been awarded to Los Angeles composer Ellen Reid for her debut opera p r i s m. The work, which has a libretto by Roxie Perkins and premiered in November as part of Los Angeles Opera’s Off Grand series for experimental pieces, explores the lingering effects of sexual trauma. Reid receives $15,000 for her win, which brings the Pulitzer Prize for Music back to the classical world after Kendrick Lamar became the first non-jazz or classical artist to receive the award last year.
The Pulitzer jury described the opera as “a bold new operatic work that uses sophisticated vocal writing and striking instrumental timbres to confront difficult subject matter: the effects of sexual and emotional abuse.” This year’s finalists included James Romig for his solo piano composition Still and Andrew Norman for his orchestral work Sustain.
The Los Angeles Time wrote that p r i s m demonstrated a “sheer incandescence” at its premiere. “[Reid] evokes a world of its own through a chamber orchestra of strings, shimmering percussion, harp, piano, flute, bass clarinet and horn that becomes a maker of wonder, mystery, suspense, fear and glory. Notes slide into one another as if guided by a secret force. Melodies are endless and inventively transformed, the atmospheric pressure ever changing.”
Reid’s p r i s m made her the very first composer to be commissioned by all four of Los Angeles’ major classical music institutions: the Los Angeles Philharmonic, LA Master Chorale, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and LA Opera.
The opera was later presented as part of New York’s PROTOTYPE Festival earlier in the year, where The New York Times wrote: “Ellen Reid’s score is accessible in the best way, disconcertingly sweet without being syrupy, with occasional whispers of choral voices so soft they’re almost more odour than sound.”
In the Drama category, the Pulitzer Prize went to Jackie Sibblies Drury for Fairview, described by the jury as “a hard-hitting drama that examines race in a highly conceptual, layered structure, ultimately bringing audiences into the actors’ community to face deep-seated prejudices.”