Saturday, May 14, 2016 Aaron Dworkin dreams big in first year at University of Michigan with M-Prize [senior finals concert at 5:30 p.m. on May 19 at Hill Auditorium]

Aaron P. Dworkin
(Photo Courtesy Kevin Kennedy)

The Donald Sintra Quartet, named in honor of their former U-M professor, is one of 29 groups competing in the inaugural M-Prize competition May 17-19.
(Photo provided)

May 13, 2016

By Martin Slagter

ANN ARBOR, MI – Before he even began his tenure as dean of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance in July 2015, Aaron Dworkin was envisioning how the school could bring visibility to chamber music.
It didn't take him long, as Dworkin and the University of Michigan's School of Music, Theatre & Dance will host the largest chamber music competition in the world in Ann Arbor next week during the inaugural M-Prize.
The competition is the largest both in number of applications received – 172 – and prize money awarded, with a $100,000 Grand Prize going to one of 29 semifinalists and 120 participants during the senior finals concert at 5:30 p.m. on May 19 at Hill Auditorium.
In addition to the Grand Prize, another $100,000 will be distributed among the top three winners in three different categories — strings, woodwinds and "open" — in Junior (ages 18 and under) and Senior (ages 19-35) divisions.
"We look at what we were doing at U-M and how we could be at the forefront of this field (of chamber music)," Dworkin said. "We looked at what the direct opportunities for our students and faculty were, but also asked 'What role are we playing in the field as a whole?' I thought a competition format would be a great way to bring awareness, attention and visibility to this craft."
Opening the field up to a number of different categories and styles of music, Dworkin said, was another way for M-Prize to separate itself from other chamber music competitions. The "open" category can feature any type of instrumentation, including percussion, voice or technology and music that contains a significant amount of improvisation such as jazz, bluegrass and world music.
Providing a versatile field of participants that will showcase a variety of styles and genres of music was intentional, Dworkin said, particularly as chamber music continues to become more embedded in popular forms of music like pop and rock.

"It is definitely growing and being presented in ways that are incredibly accessible in places like community centers and even bars, retirement homes and community parks," he said. "It's incredibly flexible in that it can be acoustic or amplified and there are so many ways it can be presented. We see M-Prize as another step toward embedded this music in our communities."

While the large cash prize might be the first thing to grab people's attention, semifinalist Dan Graser of the Donald Sinta Quartet said there is plenty of incentive to participate that goes beyond money.
Graser, who holds two degrees from U-M, said one of those incentives is that the winner will be presented by U-M's University Musical Society on their chamber arts concert series next season.
Creating visibility in chamber music at U-M and drawing attention to the world's top acts, he said, are what make M-Prize an impressive event in its first year.
"I like the idea of having an open category -- it's a very forward-looking competition," Graser said. "The caliber of judges is really impressive, as well.
"When I saw that Aaron was taking over as the new dean, I knew he was going to make big things happen quickly, but I had no idea he would come up with something so huge, so quickly. The alumni are extremely impressed by that. I think a lot of us who have graduated from U-M really like to see new leadership that is really behind the idea of U-M and Ann Arbor being a center of great chamber music – and not just in a traditional sense, but in the future of chamber music."
Dworkin brought an impressive resume with him to Ann Arbor since he was selected to lead the U-M SMTD in March 2015. Receiving a bachelor of arts and a master of fine arts degrees in violin performance from U-M, he went on to create and lead the Sphinx Organization, a leading national nonprofit, which provides K-12 performing arts education and mentorship opportunities for minorities and students in underserved communities.

A MacArthur Fellow, President Obama's first appointment to the National Council on the Arts, Governor Rick Snyder's appointee to the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and member of the Royal Philharmonic Society in London, Dworkin is recognized as one of the foremost international leaders committed arts education and advocacy.

Comment by email:
Thanks so much Bill! [Aaron P. Dworkin]

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