Andrew Norman portrait

Andrew Norman joins an impressive list of composers who have won the award. (Photo/Alexandra Gardner)


Celebrated USC composer Andrew Norman earns Guggenheim Fellowship

The musician, whose works have been performed around the world, is one of just 12 composers picked for the honor

April 22, 2016 Allison Engel

Andrew Norman ’02, MM ’04, an assistant professor of composition at the USC Thornton School of Music, has added another international award to his résumé.

It was announced on April 6 that he had received a Guggenheim Fellowship for his innovative compositional work. He was one of only 12 composers selected for the honor by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation this year and was recommended for the fellowship by an expert panel of composers who are former Guggenheim fellows.

Norman, 36, already has won the Rome Prize (2006) and the Berlin Prize (2009). His string trio, The Companion Guide to Rome, was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music, and his 2013 orchestral work, Play, was nominated for a Grammy Award this year.

His works have been performed by major orchestras around the world, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, the BBC, the St. Louis and Melbourne symphonies, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Tonhalle Orchester Zurich, the Orchestre National de France and the Philadelphia and Minnesota orchestras, garnering strong reviews. He is currently composer in residence with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and Opera Philadelphia.

Norman, who is originally from Grand Rapids, Mich., but spent his high school years in Modesto, began studying piano at the age of 6, majored in piano and composition at USC Thornton and has been teaching here for three years.

Two upcoming operas

The Guggenheim grant will allow Norman to take a leave for the 2016-17 academic year to work on two upcoming operas. The first, a co-commission from the Berlin Philharmonic and London Symphony, is a semi-staged opera with several choruses of singers of different ages, from children through adults, both professional and non-professional.

The idea of a “community” opera involving non-professionals was suggested to Norman by Simon Rattle, the Berlin Philharmonic’s conductor and London Symphony conductor-designate.

England has a tradition of community operas, Norman noted, such as British composer Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde. Norman said he is working with a librettist and currently searching for the right subject matter with a universal theme. It is scheduled to premiere in Berlin in the summer of 2017 and then travel to London.

“It’s very exciting to have that amount of focused time to work,” he said. “I will miss teaching, but I really do have to get this thing done.”

He had planned to request an unpaid leave to work on the piece, but applied for the Guggenheim, and it came at just the right time. It will provide enough money for him to live on for a year, he said.

The second opera he’ll work on is a commission from Opera Philadelphia. That project is just getting off the ground, and a subject has yet to be chosen.

Critical acclaim

Norman has been showered with critical praise for his compositions, some of which are written with open passages that allow musicians to play them in a number of ways, making each performance “different and unpredictable, which I like,” Norman said.

His musical influences also are contemporary, ranging from novels to “nonlinear, narrative-scrambling techniques from cinema, television and video games,” he writes on his website.

Unstuck, a 2008 orchestral work, drew inspiration from the fragmentary quality of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five, prompting a reviewer to call the piece “something to behold.”

Last month, the Los Angeles Philharmonic under conductor Gustavo Dudamel premiered his Play: Level 1, adapted from his orchestral cycle, Play, which echoes the frenetic, disjointed experience of video game play.

Last December, a concerto Norman composed especially for pianist Jeffrey Kahane (a USC Thornton colleague), had a world premiere with the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center. Split was described as invoking “a world of fluid and fragmentary relationships, fueled by group chats and Facebook threads.”

The Guggenheim Fellowship was established in 1925 by U.S. Sen. and Mrs. Simon Guggenheim as a memorial to their son, John, to “add to the educational, literary, artistic and scientific power of this country, and also to provide for the cause of better international understanding.”

The foundation awards approximately 200 fellowships each year to “men and women who have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.”

This year, 178 scholars, artists and scientists from the United States and Canada were selected from nearly 3,000 applicants.