Composer Joan Tower, a longtime distinguished professor at Bard College and Red Hook resident, is the 2019 winner of the Gold Baton Award from the League of American Orchestras. The organization’s president Jesse Rosen stated, “We are so happy to celebrate Joan Tower’s immense contribution to orchestras. She has been a beloved presence in our community, an exemplary musical citizen, an inspiring mentor, an energetic champion of new music – in particular, women composers and performers – and a delightful colleague whose music has been broadly embraced by musicians and audiences alike.”
The award recognizes individuals and institutions whose contributions champion and advance the cause of orchestras and symphonic music throughout the US. Previous winners of this award include Aaron Copland, Yo-Yo Ma, Leonard Bernstein, Beverly Sills and John Williams. However, Tower is the first musician whose primary activity is composition to receive the award since Robert Ward in 1991.
“It’s the music that drives your life,” Tower told me, “not the awards. Awards are very nice, and sometimes they are financially helpful. It’s a wonderful kind of present to get. But the music is most important. This award is pretty interesting, though, because they usually give it to soloists, orchestra managers and conductors. In that context, this is an amazing honor. And at my age, being a woman composer, it’s a nourishing event.”
Tower has previously won a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Du Pont Award and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1990 she won the rich Grawemeyer Award for her orchestral composition Silver Ladders, written for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra when she was its composer-in-residence.
It’s particularly appropriate that Tower’s Golden Baton will be presented at the League’s annual conference this June in Nashville, which is where her Made in America – which has now been performed in every state – was recorded. That recording won Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary Classical Composition, Best Orchestral Performance and Best Classical Album. When that CD, an all-Tower collection, was planned for recording in Nashville, there was no performance scheduled to go with it. Tower insisted that the music had to be performed in concert first, so the orchestra added a concert to inaugurate its new auditorium and invited people who had worked on the building, along with their families. The resulting audience filled the hall and gave the musicians a standing ovation.