Lieberson’s ‘Neruda Songs’ Earns Grawemeyer Music Prize

“Neruda Songs,” a song cycle written by composer Peter Lieberson that became a parting gift to his dying wife, has earned the 2008 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition.

The work, a group of songs based on five love poems by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, was chosen for the prize among 140 entries from around the world.

Lieberson began writing the song cycle in 2003 for his wife, the late mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Later, she learned that she was ill with cancer. She performed the work with the organizations that jointly commissioned it, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Boston Symphony, before she died in 2006.

“Each song represents a different stage of love, from first passion to the end of life,” said Marc Satterwhite, a U of L music professor who directs the award program. “The piece has beauty and surface simplicity, but great emotional depth and intellectual rigor as well,” he said.

“Neruda Songs” was published in 2005 by G. Schirmer Inc.

Lieberson, the son of former Columbia Records president Goddard Lieberson and ballerina Vera Zorina, was born in New York City. He studied music at Columbia and Brandeis universities, also studying Tibetan Buddhism, a theme reflected in his works. He now lives in Santa Fe and devotes his time exclusively to composing music.

Among his other compositions are three concertos and several solo pieces for pianist Peter Serkin, the concerto “Six Realms” for cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the operas “Ashoka’s Dream” and “King Gesar.”

The Grawemeyer Foundation at U of L annually awards $1 million — $200,000 each — for outstanding works in music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology, education and religion. Winners of the other 2008 Grawemeyer Awards also are being announced this week.

For more details or a photo of Lieberson, contact Denise Fitzpatrick at 502-852-6171 or or see

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