Stephen Jaffe, Mary and James H. Semans Professor of Music Composition at Duke University, is one of ten new members to be inducted into The American Academy of Arts and Letters in May 2012. Past faculty members elected to the 250-person organization include Professor Emeritus Robert Ward and the late Reynolds Price.
"My first reaction to learning of this was complete surprise," says Jaffe. "This was followed by the still not-quite-believable realization that people are paying attention, not just to one work, but to what you've been doing over a creative life! I am humbled to be in the company of such great artists, writers, and composers -- and looking forward to meeting some of those whose books I have read, or whose buildings I have marveled at, and to having some great conversations."
Other 2012 inductees include artists Lynda Benglis, Robert Gober, and
Kara Walker and architects Elizabeth Diller and Kenneth Frampton;
writers Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen, and Jhumpa Lahiri; and
composer Tobias Picker.
The Washington D.C. native's music has been featured at major concerts and festivals including the Nottingham, Tanglewood, and Oregon Bach Festivals, and presented by the Slovenska Filharmonija (Slovenian Philharmonic), the National Symphony, the San Francisco, North Carolina and New Jersey Symphonies, Berlin's Spectrum Concerts, London's Lontano, and many others. Bridge Records has issued three discs of the composer's music, including the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, awarded the Koussevitsky International Recording Award in 2004, and the Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra, and introduced by their principal cellist David Hardy, under Leonard Slatkin's direction, at the Kennedy Center. Jaffe's latest completed creations include Light Dances (Chamber Concerto No. 2), and two orchestral works written for the North Carolina Symphony: Poetry of the Piedmont, and Cithara mea (Evocations): Spanish Music Notebook for Orchestra, based on Spanish Renaissance music, with visual images by Thomas Struth.
"To spend your life working to make real, and tangible music -- to attempt to make something necessary and beautiful, yet unsaid, inspires me," says Jaffe. "Last night in Boston, I heard a completely thrilling performance by the Borromeo Quartet of my String Quartet No. 2 ("Sylvan and Aeolian Figures"). When I look around at the faces of other audience members, I can see that music is important for them, too. So, while sometimes I get discouraged about the possibility of creating new work, and having it make its way in the world, I remember these moments of performance when something I dreamed up from a very mysterious place, and worked on, actually did make it to the quality of necessary music."
Together with his colleagues, including Scott Lindroth, Vice Provost for the Arts at Duke University, Stephen Jaffe directs Duke's contemporary music concert series Encounters: with the Music of Our Time, and works with an inventive and gifted group of young composers.