March 10, 2016

By Jarret Bencks | BrandeisNOW

Brandeis University professor David Rakowski has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in recognition of his contributions to music composition.

Election to the academy is considered the highest recognition of artistic merit in the United States. The academy is divided into departments of art, literature and music. The roster of 250 members includes some of the country's most influential artistic minds, including Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen Sondheim, Philip Glass and Frank Gehry.

Rakowski, the Walter W. Naumberg Professor of Composition, is a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in music whose 160-plus compositions have been played all over the world. He has been recognized with numerous awards, prizes and fellowships for composition and teaching over the course of his career. He is perhaps most well known for his 100 high-energy piano études, including some that require playing with fists and the nose.

“When I got the news, I wondered, ‘Why me? Doesn’t the academy know I have a piano piece that uses the nose?’” Rakowski said. “I am truly honored. The membership is the leading lights in the arts in this country, and I have studied and admired many of the members since I was a student. The notion that I get a seat at the table with them, and as their equal, is mind-blowing.”

With his election to the academy, Rakowski becomes the third current Brandeis member, following emeritus professors of music Martin Boykan and emertius professor of composition Yehudi Wyner, who is president of the academy.

Rakowski is one of 12 Americans members and 2 honorary foreign members to be inducted into the academy this year, including photographer Robert Frank, former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins, journalists David Remnick and Jane Kramer, novelist Peter Carey, multimedia artist Joan Jonas, electronic music composer Paul Lansky, painter, stage designer and printmaker David Salle, artist Pat Steir, writer John Edgar Wideman, and fellow composer Sebastian Currier. The two honorary foreign members are British author Julian Barnes and German photographer Thomas Struth.