Yonkers fetes Pulitzer-winning composer Kevin Puts
Yonkers composer Kevin Puts was honored by the city Tuesday morning for winning the Pulitzer Prize for music. Mayor Mike Spano commended Puts, who has lived with his family in the Park Hill neighborhood for almost four years, during the 15-minute ceremony at City Hall.
"He's risen to the highest levels of personal and professional success," Spano said after the ceremony. "It was my pleasure to recognize him as a distinguished Yonkers resident."
Puts won the Pulitzer, announced by Columbia University on April 16, for "Silent Night: Opera in Two Acts." The composition is his interpretation of the 2005 film, "Joyeux Noel," based on the true story of the Christmas-week cease-fire among Scottish, French and German soldiers during World War I. With libretto by Mark Campbell, the opera is sung in English, German, French, Italian and Latin.
"I think of it as my best piece that I've written to date," Puts, 40, said.
Puts' first attempt at opera beat out two other finalists for the prize and $10,000 award. According to the Pulitzer website, Puts' opera was declared the winner for its "versatility of style" and for "cutting straight to the heart."
"It's a tremendous honor," he said. "It's the kind of thing that, as a composer, you have on the back of your mind as an amazing honor, but you never really expect it, because it's not the kind of thing you can expect. Many of my teachers have won the award, and I know it's meant a lot to their careers."
Puts, whose current projects include four nonopera compositions, said he was at home in Yonkers with his family on a "hot, pollen-filled" day when he heard the news.
"The phone rang and I didn't even answer it," he said. "It was a 212 number, and I didn't know who it was, so I didn't answer it. Then a couple of my friends called me, and I think I checked my friend's message first, and he said, 'Hey, congratulations!' Then I thought, 'Hey, wait a minute.' And then it occurred to me that they were announcing the awards."
The Minnesota Opera, which commissioned Puts' Pulitzer-winning composition, premiered it Nov. 12 at the Ordway Theater in St. Paul. Puts said that during its run there, he realized it could be something special when the Minnesota Opera's artistic director, Dale Johnson, approached him.
"He asked me, 'At what point do you start thinking about the Pulitzer Prize?'" Puts said. "I wasn't trying to be falsely modest, but I honestly hadn't thought about it. I was just trying to make the opera work."
A native of St. Louis, Puts earned his bachelor's degree and doctorate from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, and his master's from Yale University. He has written four symphonies and multiple concertos, including one performed by famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Puts has been commissioned and performed by the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Pops, the Tonhalle Orchestër in Zurich, Switzerland, and other orchestras, ensembles and soloists throughout North America, Europe and Asia.
Before the Pulitzer, Puts won the 2003 Benjamin H. Danks Award for Excellence in Orchestral Composition of the American Academy of Arts and Letters; a 2001 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship; a 2001-02 Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome; and the 1999 Barlow International Prize for Orchestral Music.
Of all the prizes and awards Puts has received over the years, Tuesday's honor is unique. "Today was named Kevin Puts Day [in Yonkers], which is kind of hilarious," Puts said after Tuesday's event. "I've never had a day named after me before."