Oberlin Alumni and Faculty Celebrated for Composition Achievements

American Academy of Arts and Letters awards prizes and funding to four alumni and a member of the Composition Department faculty

March 5, 2024

Cathy Partlow Strauss ’84

Bibbins Hall exterior view
Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko

The American Academy of Arts and Letters—an honor society of artists, architects, composers, and writers—announced the 20 recipients of its 2024 Awards in Music. A number of Oberlin Conservatory alumni and a member of the Conservatory faculty were awarded prizes or scholarships. The honor celebrates and supports both established and emerging composers. Oberlin’s five honorees run the gamut of these career phases.

portrait of Giddens

Vocal performance alumnus Rhiannon Giddens ’00 was awarded the Virgil Thomson Award of $40,000, which goes to an exceptional American composer of vocal works. Giddens work was recently recoginized with the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Music for her opera Omar.

portrait of Helgeson

The Benjamin H. Danks Award of $20,000, given to a composer of ensemble works was granted to double degree alumnus and composer Aaron Helgeson ’05 (BM in composition and BA in theater). Helgeson serves as Associate Professor of Composition and Music Theory at Montclair State University’s Cali School of Music. His music has received awards and grants from institutions like the Fromm Music Foundation, Aaron Copland Fund, Barlow Endowment, ASCAP, and American Composers Forum. Recordings of his music are available on Carrier Records, Oberlin Music, and Innova Recordings.

Jones portrait

Oberlin Conservatory composition faculty Jesse Jones received the Walter Hinrichsen Award, established by the C. F. Peters Corporation for the publication of a work by an American composer. The Rome Prize- and Guggenheim-winning composer has also just released a new album with his group EZRA, which includes nine works written by Jones. This musician collective is focused on the creation of genre-crossing and style-inclusive new music and consists of banjo virtuoso and Oberlin Conservatory composition student Max Allard, world-renowned mandolinist Jacob Jolliff, and bassist Craig Butterfield, with Jones on guitar and keyboard instruments.

Weiss headshot

Composer and conductor Justin Weiss ’17 (B.M. in Music Composition with a minor in Music Theory) is currently a PhD Fellow in Composition at the University of Chicago where he studies with Augusta Read Thomas and is conductor of the university’s New Music Ensemble. He has received a Charles Ives Scholarship of $7,500.

Santos portrait

Composer Isaac Santos ’22, now a PhD candidate in Princeton University’s Department of Music, also received a Charles Ives Scholarship of $7,500.

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