American composer, musician and scholar George Lewis, a global figure in improvised and experimental music, has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Birmingham City University [BCU] for his outstanding achievements in the field.
The Columbia University academic, also an acclaimed electronic performer and installation artist, received the institution’s top honour prior to the premiere of a new commission for Birmingham Contemporary Music Group [BCMG], performed at the city’s Bradshaw Hall, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire [RBC].
Lewis’s work has been presented by orchestras and ensembles the world over, including the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, London Sinfonietta, and others, and the 70-year-old Chicago native has worked with renowned composers and musicians including Gil Evans and David Murray.
Speaking after the conferment of the award on him by Birmingham City University Vice-Chancellor Professor Philip Plowden and BCU colleagues, George Lewis said: “Receiving the honorary doctorate from Birmingham City University was particularly memorable, and I thank the faculty for this honour, which was redoubled by hearing the student compositions by Marcus Rock, Fiona Troon, and Kinna Whitehead, whose trumpet fanfare was dedicated to me and even included a portrait of me drawn by her.
“I greatly appreciated the extraordinary and sensitive performance of my work Breaking by BCMG and Stephan Meier, as well as the warm welcome the Ensemble accorded me at rehearsals and was very gratified to meet and have conversations with some of the many people who supported my commission, where I could thank them personally for their love of new music and for the community you all have created in Birmingham.”
Professor and Head of Composition at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Joe Cutler, and composers and BCU academics Professor Michael Wolters and Dr Seán Clancy, were joined for the award ceremony by Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media Professor Dean Hughes, and Interim Principal of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Professor Shirley Thompson.
Professor Joe Cutler said: “Turning 70 this year, George Lewis is one of the most prominent figures in the world of contemporary music today. He is a figure who has achieved excellence across classical, jazz, and improvised music, and he has also been an influential pioneer in electronic music.
“In addition, George has been highly influential in raising questions relating to the decolonisation of classical and experimental music. He has spoken at great length about how music institutions need to become far more inclusive, and how we need to nurture and champion young composers and music creators from a much broader diversity of backgrounds. He is a fantastic role model for any young musician today.
“For Royal Birmingham Conservatoire performance and composition students to meet and have contact with a figure of George Lewis’s artistic stature is something of significance in their future artistic development.” George Lewis joins a growing list of musical greats who have been recognised by academics at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, part of Birmingham City University, for their outstanding contributions, including influential Dutch composer Louis Andriessen, English operatic composer Harrison Birtwistle, Swedish orchestral composer Karin Rehnqvist, and music theatre composer Heiner Goebbels.