As Good As It Gets: Pierre Jalbert '89 Wins Masterprize
"Shocked and elated." That was the reaction from Pierre Jalbert '89 upon winning the 2001 Masterprize International Competition in October 2001 at the Barbican Centre in London. Pierre was honored for In Aeternam, a work commissioned by Barry Jekowsky and the California Symphony (Walnut Creek, Calif.), where Pierre is finishing his third and final year as Young American Composer-in-Residence.

The Duchess of Kent presented Pierre with the £30,000 award following a performance of his composition by the London Symphony Orchestra, broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, the BBC World Service, and European Broadcasting Union.

The competition attracted 1,151 entrants from 62 countries, from which 12 semi-finalists were selected. Said to be one of the most important international prizes for composers of contemporary classical music, Time Magazine music writer Julie K. L. Dam in 1998 commented: "Such is the value of international exposure that some of the contestants say being shortlisted for Masterprize is already more important than winning any other composing competition."

In Aeternam, translated as Into Eternity, premiered in May 2000 in Walnut Creek at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts. The work was composed as a memorial to Pierre's niece Jessica, who died at birth. It also incorporates the memory of hearing his son Peter's heartbeat for the first time. (Pierre is married to Julia Jalbert '89; Peter is now 5.)

Despite its provenance and acclaim, In Aeternam is not, Pierre says, his favorite piece. "Probably the piece I'm proudest of thus far is my largest work Symphonia Sacra. It was influenced by my time in Rome." (Pierre recently spent a fellowship year there at the American Academy as a winner of the Rome Prize in Composition.) The 27-minute symphony was also written for the California Symphony.

In Aeternam was among five works chosen by a jury composed of members of the first-stage jury, members of the European Broadcasting Union, and an international group of musicians, including Vladimir Ashkenazy, Vladimir Fedosteyev, Thomas Hampson, and Kent Nagano. One of the more egalitarian competitions, prizes are awarded based on voting by a combination of the public, a panel of judges, and selected London Symphony Orchestra members. A CD of the finalists' works was distributed with the August issue of the BBC Music Magazine and public voting commenced in August via the magazine, the Internet, and telephone. Honorary judges included Marin Alsop, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, and saxophonist/composer John Harle.

What importance does Pierre place on competitions, generally? "These things are very subjective. But with a competition like Masterprize, with all of the semi-finalists and finalists having the opportunity for their music to be broadcast all over Europe, reaching an audience of millions, and for the finalists to have a performance from the London Symphony, it doesn't get much better than that."

Pierre graduated from Oberlin with degrees in piano performance and composition and studied with, among others, Professor of Composition and Music Theory Randolph Coleman and Professor of Pianoforte Sedmara Zakarian Rutstein.

Pierre earned his master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Assistant Professor of Composition and Music Theory at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston.

His other awards include three ASCAP Foundation Awards, the Bearns Prize in Composition, two BMI Founda-tion Composition Awards, residency at the Copland House, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Society of Composers Award, and a Tanglewood Music Center fellowship.

What has Pierre done lately? A new piece he wrote for Japanese marimbist Makoto Nakura a Marimba Sonata was played in Japan in October 2001. "Centerpiece," a chamber orchestra piece for the Albany Symphony and its music director, David Alan Miller, premiered in December 2001. And he's working on a piece for conductor Kevin Noe and the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble. A parting gift to the California Symphony and music director Barry Jekowsky is a work that will premiere on May 19 and 21, 2002. The program will also include pieces by former California Symphony Young American Composers-in-Residence, among them Kamran Ince '82.

- Marci Janas '91

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