John Nuechterlein announcing Sarah Cahill’s recognition as 2018 Champion of Music (photograph by Michael Strickland)
Yesterday afternoon in Old First Presbyterian Church, pianist Sarah Cahill was honored by the American Composers Forum (ACF), which named her a 2018 Champion of New Music. The award was presented by John Nuechterlein, ACF President and Chief Executive Officer. ACF was first organized in 1973 by students at the University of Minnesota and was incorporated as the Minnesota Composers Forum in 1975. The ACF name was adopted by the Board of Directors in 1996. Since Minnesota is also the home of General Mills, home of Wheaties, Nuechterlein announced that Cahill would be further honored with her photograph on a box of Wheaties, whose motto is “The Breakfast of Champions” and which has honored many leading sports figures on past boxes. My guess is that the box he presented to Cahill was a one-off; but, if I see her on the shelf at Safeway, I shall not be surprised!
The Champion of New Music Award was established by the ACF Board of Directors in 2005 as a national mark of recognition to honor individuals or ensembles that have made a significant contribution to the work and livelihoods of contemporary composers. In Cahill’s case one might almost call it a lifetime achievement award. Cahill has been performing new music at least since the age of seventeen, when a young John Adams wrote “China Gates” for her. Throughout her adult life she has been presenting programs consisting primarily, if not entirely, of compositions that she commissioned. As was observed at the beginning of this month, when she gave a two-hour recital for Flower Piano, many significant works in her repertoire are also available through solo recordings she has made.
Yesterday’s award presentation took place after Cahill presented a recital for Old First Concerts. The program was shorter than usual (and played without an intermission) to allow time for the award ceremony and the reception that followed. Regardless of brevity, the program provided an informative scope of pieces written for Cahill, going all the way back to “China Gates.” Commissioned pieces by Meredith Monk, Phil Kline, and Terry Riley that would then be recorded on her A Sweeter Music album were also included, as well as works by Pauline Oliveros and Annea Lockwood, which were written for an anniversary program Cahill prepared honoring the 100th birthday of Ruth Crawford Seeger on July 3, 2001. The newest work on the program was Samuel Adams’ “Shade Studies,” based on one of Riley’s improvisations and written for that composer’s 80th birthday on June 24, 2015. (Adams’ piece was also included as part of the “appendix” for Cahill’s album of Riley’s piano music, Eighty Trips Around the Sun.) Cahill’s encore came from another one of her albums, Patterns of Plants, consisting of music by Mamoru Fujieda, who had a technique for transcribing the geometrical pattern of a plant into a melodic pattern. Her encore selection was one of the “Pattern” movements from Fujieda’s nineteenth collection of pieces, which he entitled The Olive Branch Speaks.
The result was an afternoon event where one could not only appreciate the recognition Cahill was receiving but also a rich body of evidence making it clear how well deserved that recognition was.