2008 – Peter Lieberson

“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. In 2005, she learned that she was ill with cancer. She performed it 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 UofL 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.

About Peter Lieberson

American composer Peter Lieberson has devoted himself solely to music composition since 1994.

His Grawemeyer-winning song cycle, “Neruda Songs,” was published by G. Schirmer Inc. in New York City.

Lieberson first drew national attention when his “Piano Concerto” was premiered by pianist Peter Serkin and the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1983. Since then, he has written a series of concerti, orchestral works, operas and chamber music that have been performed worldwide.

The son of former Columbia Records president Goddard Lieberson and ballerina Vera Zorina, Lieberson studied at Columbia and Brandeis universities and taught at Harvard University from 1984 to 1988.

Buddhist philosophy has strongly influenced his music. He studied with Chogyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Buddhist master, in Boulder, Colo., and later moved to Boston to direct Shambhala Training, a meditation and cultural program. Eventually, he became international director for Shambala Training in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Lieberson received special acclaim for his operas “Ashoka’s Dream” and “King Gesar,” both about ancient rulers. His collaborations with Serkin led to the piano pieces “Garland,” “Fantasy Pieces,” “Bagatelles,” “Scherzo” and “The Ocean that has no West and no East.”

He met his late wife Lorraine in 1997 after selecting her to sing in the premiere of “Ashoka’s Dream” at the Santa Fe Opera. They married in 1999.

Lieberson’s awards include a Brandeis Creative Arts Award and one from the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2006.