Eastman School of Music alumnus Caleb Burhans, described by the New York Times as a “man of many talents” whose “name stands out on a roster,” has been awarded a Leonore Annenberg Fellowship in the Performing and Visual Arts. The prestigious and selective grant recognizes young artists—nominated by institutions invited to submit a candidate, in this case Eastman—whose accomplishments predict a career of national renown.
Burhans is one of only four new Leonore Annenberg Fellowship recipients this year. The grants target young artists of extraordinary talent who also possess the potential to become cultural and community leaders. The fellowships are part of a philanthropic initiative established in 2007 by Leonore Annenberg and were awarded for the first time last year.
A composer, singer, and performer on violin, viola, guitar, and piano, Burhans has cut a broad artistic swath across New York City’s music world since he moved there after receiving a bachelor’s degree at Eastman in 2003. Among his wide-ranging activities, he sings as a countertenor in the Trinity Church Choir and other ensembles; performs new music with such groups as Alarm Will Sound and Signal, and electronic and techno music with Bleknlok and itsnotyouitsme; and has written works on commission from Lincoln Center, the Bloomingdale School of Music, Tarab Cello Ensemble, Janus, and the Albany Symphony as well as from individual conductors and musicians.
“Caleb possesses an artistic vibrancy and passion that exemplify a new generation of contemporary musicians who defy categorization,” said Douglas Lowry, dean of the Eastman School. “He is an innovative and accomplished musical pioneer whose work is redefining the classical music experience and attracting new, young audiences.”
The Annenberg Fellowships in the Performing and Visual Arts recognize the struggles and obstacles faced by rising artists and are designed to help them move ahead with their promising careers.
Burhans, 28, will receive a two-year grant, totaling $153,000, to support his creative and performance work, including additional studies and the production and release of a CD with other musicians and ensembles.
“Receiving the Annenberg Fellowship is such an honor and is going to change many aspects of my life,” said Burhans. “I have always enjoyed being a freelance musician and composer, but it does have its drawbacks. With this fellowship support, I’ll be able to focus more on doing the music that I love to compose, play, and sing.”
Burhans’s performance and composing work, which ranges across genres from early music to pop, reflects his myriad activities starting in childhood. In elementary school, he sang in choirs and took up the violin; as a teen, he played in orchestras as well as rock bands and attended Interlochen Arts Academy. At Eastman, he became involved with the student-run new music ensemble Ossia; performed and sang with the early music ensemble Collegium Musicum; studied violin, viola, voice, and composition; wrote works for Musica Nova and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church; was a substitute in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra; and sang with the Brockport Symphony Orchestra.
“A wide range of musical styles and performance activity can distract artists, but perhaps it is a measure of Caleb’s exceptional talent that he absorbs all of it instead with incredible focus, forging a singular path of musical exploration that has so far proved to be remarkably creative and productive,” said Phillip Ying, associate professor of chamber music at the Eastman School and violist with The Ying Quartet. “Caleb has displayed the highest artistic promise of a coming generation that is actively exploring where and what it means to perform and listen to music.”
Burhans has worked with such composers as Philip Glass, Steve Reich, La Monte Young, Augusta Read Thomas, Lou Harrison, David Liptak, Brad Lubman, and many others. His own compositions have often been premiered and commissioned by ensembles with which he works. “Amidst Neptune” was commissioned by Lubman and premiered by Musica Nova in 2003; the work was also performed as part of Steve Reich’s 70th birthday celebration in 2006 at the Whitney Museum. “oh ye of little faith . . . (do you know where your children are?)” was commissioned by Lincoln Center for the re-opening earlier this year of Alice Tully Hall. Burhans has also written on commission for Trinity Church; mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer; percussionist Payton MacDonald; Westminster Kantorei; violists John Graham, Eric Nowlin, and Nadia Sirota; Dogs of Desire, an 18-piece “amplified orchestra of the future” that is an offshoot of the Albany Symphony; and others.
The Annenberg Fellowship will give Burhans the opportunity to concentrate on writing his own works, he noted.
“Since leaving Eastman in 2003, I’ve only composed on commission, but I haven’t in the past six years composed a piece purely because I wanted to,” said Burhans. ”I’ve often thought of a story about the great composer Igor Stravinsky. He was once asked why he didn’t write more for string quartet and he replied, ‘No one asked me to.’ I now feel that this isn’t something I will be saying, and it’s very exciting and comforting to me as a composer to be able to write the work that I want.”
The Leonore Annenberg Fellowship Fund in the Performing and Visual Arts is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Leonore Annenberg, who passed away on March 12 at the age of 91, was Chief of Protocol for the United States and a prominent philanthropist and arts advocate who won numerous national and international awards for her work.
Recipients of the Annenberg Fellowship are chosen from nominations made by institutions that have been invited to submit a candidate. The Selection Council for the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship Fund makes the final decision in each case.
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