Trailblazing composer and orchestra leader Maria Schneider is one of nineteen new members and four honorary members who will be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters during its annual Ceremonial on May 24, 2023. During the ceremony, the Ukrainian writer Andrey Kurkov, who is being inducted into Foreign Honorary membership, will deliver the keynote address.
“This incredible news is a lot to absorb. I’d recorded my song cycle Winter Morning Walks in the beautiful concert hall of the Academy of Arts and Letters almost a decade ago. Upon touring the whole building, including the room of signed member photos going back to the beginning, I remember almost buckling facing the totality of all of those immensely creative individuals. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine myself being there among them,” says Schneider. “To be recognized in this way by the most esteemed and accomplished creators in our nation? It’s hugely inspiring. I will certainly do my best to contribute to the Academy’s ongoing mission to sustain the arts, especially in these times when our world needs it more than ever.
The American Academy of Arts and Letters was founded in 1898 as an honor society of the country’s leading architects, artists, composers, and writers. Early members include William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, Julia Ward Howe, Henry James, Edward MacDowell, Theodore Roosevelt, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, John Singer Sargent, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton. The Academy’s 300 members are elected for life and pay no dues.
The Academy’s American Honorary membership, which began in 1983, recognizes up to twenty Americans of extraordinary artistic achievement whose work falls outside of or transcends the fields of architecture, art, literature, and music composition. Foreign Honorary membership, which was established in 1929, celebrates up to seventy-five distinguished architects, artists, writers, and composers from other countries whose work the Academy’s membership greatly admires.
In addition to electing new members as vacancies occur, the Academy seeks to foster and sustain an interest in Literature, Music, and the Fine Arts by administering over 70 awards and prizes totaling more than $1 million, exhibiting art and manuscripts, funding performances of new works of musical theater, purchasing artwork for donation to museums across the country, and presenting talks and concerts.
Maria Schneider’s music has been hailed by critics as “evocative, majestic, magical, heart-stoppingly gorgeous, imaginative, revelatory, riveting, daring, and beyond categorization.” Blurring the lines between genres, her varied commissioners stretch from Jazz at Lincoln Center, to The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, to the American Dance Festival, and include collaboration with David Bowie. She is among a small few to receive GRAMMYS in multiple genres, having received the award in jazz and classical, as well as for her work with David Bowie.
With her first recording, Evanescence (1994), Schneider began developing her personal way of writing for her 18-member collective made up of many of the finest musicians in jazz today, tailoring her compositions to the uniquely creative voices of the group. They have performed at festivals and concert halls worldwide, and she herself has received numerous commissions and guest-conducting invites, working with more than 90 groups in over 30 countries.
Unique funding of projects has become a hallmark for Schneider through the trend-setting company, ArtistShare. And, in 2004, Concert in the Garden became historic as the first recording to win a GRAMMY with Internet-only sales. Even more significantly, it blazed the “crowd-funding” trail as ArtistShare’s first release, and was eventually inducted into the 2019 National Recording Registry.
Schneider’s many honors also include: 14 GRAMMY-nominations, 7 GRAMMY Awards, numerous Jazz Journalists Association awards, DownBeat and JazzTimes Critics and Readers Polls awards, an honorary doctorate from her alma mater, the University of Minnesota, ASCAP’s esteemed Concert Music Award (2014), the nation’s highest honor in jazz, “NEA Jazz Master” (2019) (NEA Jazz Master Speech found here), election into the 2020 American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and 2023 induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
A strong voice for music advocacy, Schneider has testified before the US Congressional Subcommittee on Intellectual Property on digital rights, has given commentary on CNN, participated in round-tables for the United States Copyright Office, has been quoted in numerous publications for her views on Spotify, YouTube, Google, digital rights, and music piracy, and has written various white papers and articles on the digital economy as related to music and beyond.
Her latest double-album, Data Lords (2020), a Pulitzer Prize Finalist, winner of two GRAMMY Awards, named Jazz Album of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association and NPR, and winner of France’s prestigious Grand Prix de l’Académie du Jazz, has melded her advocacy and art. Nate Chinen of NPR writes: “Now it’s finally here, in the form of a magnificent double album, Data Lords. . . it parses into thematic halves, ‘The Digital World’ and, as an antidote, ‘The Natural World.’ On the whole and in the details, it amounts to the most daring work of Schneider’s career, which sets the bar imposingly high. This is music of extravagant mastery, and it comes imbued with a spirit of risk.”
David Hajdu for THE NATION writes, “Beyond the dualism in its format, Data Lords is a work of holistic creativity. The music of outrage and critique in the first album has all the emotion and conceptual integrity that the music of melancholy and reverence does in the second. I can’t conceive of anyone else creating this music, unless Delius has been writing with Bowie on the other side.”