On October 21, 2016, Peter Witte made the following remarks in presenting the PRISM Quartet with the newly established Christopher Kendall Award. The Award honors the tenure of Emeritus Dean Christopher Kendall by recognizing one alumnus/a or an ensemble of alumni of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance from any graduation year who has demonstrated collaboration and/or entrepreneurship and/or significant community engagement and/or interdisciplinary studies and/or patronage to the arts in their professional work.
Many thanks to Peter for his kind words, and to Dean Aaron Dworkin and Emeritus Dean Kendall for their support.
The University of Michigan’s Christopher Kendall Award seeks to recognize School of Music, Theatre, and Dance alumni who collaborate, demonstrate a spirit of entrepreneurship, engage with communities, and celebrate an interdisciplinary approach.
Three decades before many of these concepts became buzzwords in higher education, PRISM charted this very course for today’s chamber ensembles to emulate.
Not only is PRISM a collaboration of four virtuosi, each a proud student of the University of Michigan’s esteemed Professor Emeritus of Saxophone, Donald Sinta, they built relationships with the composers of our time to craft a repertoire seemingly from the ether.
Today, leading composers jump at the chance to write for PRISM, knowing that their performing abilities and insights are equal to any task a composer may put before them. The saxophone quartet is now established as a full citizen in the world of chamber music and contemporary music. PRISM is the reason why. Without question, the ensemble stands with the Kronos Quartet, and PRISM’s younger siblings, eighth blackbird, Alarm Will Sound, ICE, and Roomful of Teeth, as models of what 21st century musicianship can be.
PRISM was entrepreneurial even before the term was bandied about in music schools. Commissioning composers, crafting its own marketing and then social media presence, performing as concerti soloists with regional and world-class orchestras, playing schools shows for youngsters and giving masterclasses at leading universities and conservatories. These are only some of the approaches that PRISM saw as core to their mission in the early 1980s, all of which are now adopted by chamber musicians as part of a dossier of career skills.
Reflect on the individual careers of PRISM’s membership. They hold faculty position at four of the leading schools of music in America: Michigan, Northwestern, Temple, and UMKC. Their reach as educators and servants at their home institutions is considerable. Together, their ability to galvanize composers, educate communities and future professionals, perform with choral ensembles, in museums, at the Stone and other leading alternative contemporary music scenes, and stand with the Cleveland Orchestra as soloists are the hallmarks of an ensemble that gets it.
Importantly, two of PRISM’s members have ties to the Christopher Kendall era at Michigan. Zachary Shemon graduated from Michigan during Dean Kendall’s tenure. Of course, Dean Kendall and Michigan’s Director of Bands, Professor Michael Haithcock, worked tirelessly to recruit Professor Timothy McAllister, Michigan alumnus, Stanley Medal recipient, and arguably the most recognized classical saxophone soloist ever, to join Michigan’s faculty from Northwestern University.
Presenting the first Christopher Kendall Award to PRISM, an ensemble made in Michigan, and a model of the values he held dear, breadth with depth, is a wonderful joy.
Peter Witte is Chair of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance Alumni Society Board of Governors, and Dean of the Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.