As recipient of a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur Foundation fellowship and an array of other major awards and honors, George Perle has had a powerful impact on this generation’s American music community.
David Headlam, professor of music theory at the Eastman School of Music and a good friend of Perle, planned the Celebration of the Music of George Perle, which was held on Monday and Tuesday of this week, in honor of his colleague’s 90th birthday.
“Perle developed a completely new musical language, and I consider him my mentor,” Headlam said in a press release.
Born in Bayonne, N.J., in 1915, Perle received his early musical education in Chicago, Ill. After graduating from DePaul University, where he studied composition with composer Ernst Krenek, Perle served in the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war, he took post-graduate classes in musicology at New York University. His doctoral thesis eventually became his first book “Serial Composition and Atonality,” now in its sixth edition. Since then, Perle has been an award-winning publisher of numerous articles and seven books about modern music.
Although a successful author, first and foremost Perle is a composer. His compositions have been included in the repertoires of the Boston Philharmonic, Chicago Philharmonic, Philadelphia Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, the British Broadcasting Corporation and other major orchestras in the U.S. and abroad. His pieces have also been choreographed by professional dance companies such as the American Ballet Company. His music has been recorded and released by a number of prominent labels, one of which was nominated for a Grammy award. Most recently, he has been a guest professor at major universities and a highly sought after lecturer and commentator on television worldwide. He is currently a professor emeritus at the City University of New York.
Headlam and Perle met over 20 years ago at a 1984 music conference honoring Austrian composer Alban Berg, a mutual musical interest for both men. Headlam held the celebration with the hopes of both honoring Perle, as well as educating music students about one of the most prominent composers in recent years.
“For our students, this [was] an opportunity to learn about the life and work of this important composer from Perle’s own students and colleagues,” Headlam said.
The birthday celebration consisted of an afternoon of talks and demonstrations by musical scholars from all around the country held in Eastman’s Howard Hanson Hall, as well as a musical performance by pianist Michael Boriskin, who has performed many of the official recordings of Perle’s music. After the afternoon lectures, there was a concert that included highlights of Perle’s repertoire, most notably his Pulitzer Prize-winning Wind Quintet No. 4. A number of guest artists made appearances, including Boriskin, various Eastman student groups and soprano Eileen Strempel from Syracuse University. The final event, offered in honor of Perle’s birthday, was the lecture held on Tuesday.
“I hope that those who attended came away with a greater appreciation for George Perle’s music, which, like all good music, appeals to the heart and the mind and is interesting to look at and listen to from any number of angles,” Headlam said. “The concert was, I think, really first-rate, with moving and convincing performances of some of the great music of our time.”
Unfortunately, Perle was unable to attend the events due to his failing health.
“He’s very excited and grateful that we’ve [done] this,” Headlam said.
Brod can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.