Robert Ward Receives Nation’s Highest Honor in Opera

July 19, 2011

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For Media Only: Helene Snihur (585-274-1057,

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Robert Ward, who received his bachelor’s degree at the Eastman School of Music in 1939, has been named a recipient of a 2011 NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) Opera Honor, the nation’s highest award in opera.

The award recognizes significant lifetime contributions to opera in the United States. Honors recipients are chosen by an NEA-convened panel of opera experts from nominations made by the public. The other NEA Opera Honorees this year are stage designer John Conklin; mezzo soprano Risë Stevens; and Speight Jenkins, general director of the Seattle Opera.

Ward’s multi-faceted career has also included conducting, administration, education, and publishing. At Eastman, Ward studied with the School’s director, Howard Hanson, and composition department chair Bernard Rogers. He did postgraduate study in composition and conducting at the Juilliard School, and additional studies in composition with Aaron Copland at the Tanglewood Music Festival.

After serving as a United States Army band director during World War II, Ward earned his Artist Certificate from Juilliard and taught at both Juilliard and Columbia University. He also directed the Third Street Music Settlement.

Ward was managing editor of Galaxy Music Corporation and Highgate Press from 1967 to 1967 and chancellor of the North Carolina School of the Arts from 1967 to 1974, stepping down to become a professor. From 1979 until his retirement in 1989, he was a music professor at Duke University.

A prolific composer for more than 70 years, Ward is perhaps most widely known for his opera The Crucible. The work, based on Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem witchcraft trials, received the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Music and the New York Music Critics Circle Citation for the same year. Ward’s catalog of works includes eight operas, seven symphonies, four concertos, numerous shorter works for orchestra, music for wind ensemble, chamber music, two cantatas, various genres for vocal ensembles, and songs for solo voice.

Ward is the recipient of three Guggenheim Fellowships. In 1972, the Eastman School of Music honored Ward with its Alumni Achievement Award.

The 2011 NEA Opera Honorees will be celebrated in an awards ceremony and concert at the Sidney Harman Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Oct. 27. Each of the honoree receives a one-time award of $25,000.

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