Sondheim to be awarded MacDowell Medal

Photo by Jerry Jackson

Photo by Jerry Jackson

PETERBOROUGH — The MacDowell Colony will reach out in a new direction this summer, when it awards the prestigious Edward MacDowell Medal to composer and lyricist to Stephen Sondheim, who wrote numerous successful musicals, including “A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum,” “Company,” “Follies,” “A Little Night Music,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Sunday In The Park With George” and “Into the Woods.”

It will be the first time that an artist from the realm of musical theater has been chosen for the award. Sondheim, who wrote the lyrics to “West Side Story” in 1957, will join that musical’s composer, Leonard Bernstein, as a MacDowell medalist. Bernstein won the medal in 1987.

In the announcement about the award released by the MacDowell Colony on Monday, Sondheim recalled learning piano pieces by Edward MacDowell as a child.

“This is not only a wonderful honor, but a sort of homecoming to me, as I spent much of my piano playing childhood beginning with ‘To a Wild Rose’ and working my way up to the Second Piano Sonata,” Sondheim said. “I feel both flattered and gratified.”

Born in 1930, Sondheim has produced an impressive body of work during his long and storied career. He has won more than 60 individual and collaborative Tony Awards, an Oscar for Best Song of 1999 for “Sooner Or Later” from the film “Dick Tracy,” and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1984 for “Sunday In The Park With George.”

Sondheim’s most familiar song, “Send in the Clowns” from “A Little Night Music,” became a hit after it was recorded by Judy Collins in 1975.

In film, Sondheim composed the scores of “Stavisky” in 1974 and co-composed “Reds” in 1981. In 1983 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which awarded him the Gold Medal for Music in 2006. In 1990 he was appointed the first Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Oxford University. He was the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993.

Sondheim is on the council of the Dramatists Guild, the national association of playwrights, composers and lyricists, and served as the guild’s president from 1973 to 1981.

In 1981 he founded Young Playwrights Inc. to develop and promote the work of American playwrights age 18 years and younger.

His collected lyrics with attendant essays have been published in two volumes: “Finishing the Hat” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010) and “Look, I Made A Hat” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011).

In 2010 the Broadway theater formerly known as Henry Miller’s Theatre was renamed in Sondheim’s honor.

Frank Rich, the author, New York magazine writer and former New York Times theater critic who chaired the Edward MacDowell Medal selection committee, will introduce Sondheim at the MacDowell Medal award ceremony on Aug. 11.

“No artist has made a larger contribution to this quintessential American art form in the modern era than Sondheim has, and no artist could be more deserving of this accolade,” Rich said in the announcement of the award.

Joining Rich on the selection committee were composer and author Mary Rodgers Guettel, director and playwright James Lapine and author Michael Chabon, who is chair of the MacDowell Colony.

Chabon, a MacDowell Fellow, will present the medal to Sondheim in a public ceremony during the annual Medal Day celebration on Aug. 11, beginning at 12:15 p.m. at the MacDowell Colony grounds on High Street. The colony will be open to the public that day, and guests can share picnic lunches on the grounds following the ceremony and open studio tours will be held from 2 to 5 p.m.

There is no charge to attend the ceremony Picnic lunch baskets may be ordered at or visitors may bring their own lunches.

The MacDowell Colony, the nation’s first artist residency program, has awarded the medal annually since 1960 to an individual artist who has made an outstanding contribution to his or her field.

Sondheim joins a notable list of past MacDowell Medal recipients, including Robert Frost (1962), Alexander Calder (1963), Georgia O’Keeffe (1972), John Updike (1981), Philip Roth (2001), Alice Munro (2006), Sonny Rollins (2010) and Edward Albee (2011).

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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