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Pratt, Awadagin 1966–

Awadagin Pratt 1966

Pianist

At a Glance

Won The Naumburg Competition

Performed At Many Concerts and Recitals

Continued to Release Albums

Selected works

Sources

Pianist Awadagin Pratt has amazed and astounded both critics and audiences with his diverse and engaging interpretations of classical music. He won the Naumburg International Piano Competition and hasnt slowed down since. He has performed and conducted numerous concerts as well as released several albums displaying a unique style that set him apart from most of his contemporaries.

Pratt is an engaging and exciting new presence in the world of classical music, where his passionate playing and unique interpretations have invigorated works by such composers as Brahms, Beethoven, Franck, and Liszt. Pratt, however, has garnered as much attention for superficialities that set him apart on the classical concert stage as he has for his musical prowess. First of all, he is youngin his early 30sand he is black. He wears his shoulder-length hair in dreadlocks. Prattwhose first name is pronounced ah-wah-DODGE-intold News-weeks Yahlin Chang that people who learn he is a musician often assume he is part of a rock band. That is something, however, he finds uninteresting. I dont have an interest in pop music, he said. By and large, I find it to be boring. Rhythmically boring, harmonically boring, and melodically possibly interesting but for a very short time.

Robin P. Robinson, writing in Emerge magazine, said Pratt challenges the establishment and fans alike, forcing them to rethink the way music is perceived and heard. In the New York Times, James Barron called Pratt a hot young pianist with a big sound and a knack for tackling fast, risky passages. And Robert Mann, president of the Naumburg Foundation, said the young pianist has a rare gift. Very few artists create a sense that the music is theirs.

Awadagin Pratt was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on March 6, 1966, and began studying piano when he was six years old. In 1975 his family moved to Normal, Illinois, where his parents, Mildred and Theodore Pratt, were professors of social work and nuclear physics, respectively. For Awadaginwho began playing the piano at age sixand his younger sister, Menah, the home environment included a strict regimen of piano and violin lessons, tennis lessons, and regular practice sessions. Attending public schools in Normal, he was active in athletics, and was on the tennis team at Normal Community High School, played doubles tennis with his sister, played on basketball teams, and competed in local sports tournaments. I was aware that I showed some reasonable level of proficiency (as a musician), but it was never a prodigy-type thing, he told Robinson. I was much more involved in tennis. My sister and I were both ranked regionally. Pratt, in fact, appropriated his dreadlock hairstyle from tennis star Yannick Noah.

Pratts interest in music soon deepened, and upon graduation from high school, he enrolled at the age of 16 at the University of Illinois, majoring in music and studying piano, violin, and conducting. At age 18, he declared himself financially independent from his parents because they disapproved of his plans to be a performer rather than a music instructor. After three years at Illinois, he

At a Glance

Born in on March 6, 1966 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; parents, Mildred (a college professor) and Theodore (a college professor) Pratt. Education: Studied piano and violin at the University of Illinois and went on to graduate from the Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore.

Career: Classical pianist. Albums include: two recital albums; A Long Way From Normal, 1994; Beethoven Piano Sonatas, 1996; Live From South Africa, 1997; Transformations, 1999. Also founded the Pratt Music Foundation.

Awards: Naumburg International Piano Competition, 1992; awarded Avery Fisher Career Grant, 1994.

Addresses: IMG Artists, 420 West 45th St., New York, NY 10036.

prepared to transfer to another institution. The New England Conservatory accepted him as a violinist but not as a pianist, while the Cleveland Institute accepted him as a pianist, but not as a violinist. Pratt elected to attend the Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore, where he became the first person in the schools 137-year history to graduate with three areas of concentration: piano, violin and conducting. In 1990, he decided to focus on the piano and conductingand let the violin go.

Won The Naumburg Competition

Pratt burst onto the scene in 1992, when he won the prestigious Naumburg International Piano Competition at Lincoln Center in New York City. He was the first African American to win an international instrumental competition. He is described as an independent and strong-willed man who has brought a challenging style and a sensual, intellectual virtuosity to classical music. Pratt plays with a full-bodied intensity that can be at turns intimate and grandly heart-wrenching, Chang wrote. He has a story to tell, and you can hear him agonizing over every twist. Pratt commands your unfailing attentionwithout ever getting ostentatious.

Pratts victory in the Naumburg Competition in May of 1992and the #5,000 prize, lucrative 40-city concert tour, and recording contract it brought himcame just in time. He had passed up another competition the previous month because he couldnt scrape together the #60 entrance fee. Even so, he never lost sight of his purpose. After winning Naumburg, Pratt told People magazine: The audiencethe peopleyou want them to be moved by your music. I always figured if I had that going for me, everything else would work outregardless of whether someone thought I should cut my hair.

After several major concert successes, Pratt was awarded the Avery Fisher Career Grant in 1994, and his full-time concert career continued at a rapid pace. He signed a recording contract with Angel/EMI in 1993. He was the first black instrumentalist since Andre Watts to get a recording contract with a major label. His first two releases were recital albums, with the initial album, A Long Way from Normal, released in 1994, featuring works by Brahms, Bach, Franck, and Liszt. Reviewers raved about his ability to bring fire and freshness to familiar works, including Francks Prelude, Chorale and Fugue. Pratt has plenty of taste, artistry, and insight, all of which are immediately apparent in his comparatively light- textured, deftly colored rendition of Liszts Funerailles, Stereo Review magazine opined. (He) seems to be a rare bird among competition winners: Hes at home in the virtuoso repertory but comes across best in more introspective works that require genuine artistry.(T)his is a wonderfully satisfying and promising debut album.

Pratts repertoire puts a new spin on classic compositions. He leans toward probing, dense pieces by composers such as Brahms, Franck, and Liszt, rather than the more commercially popular Mozart or Vivaldi, Robinson wrote in Emerge. Some critics have found Pratts style and interpretation of the music a bit disconcerting because it doesnt always sound the way theyre accustomed to hearing it. The criticism didnt faze him. As far as he was concerned, no two musicians should be able to play the same piece of music exactly the same way. If one does completely play, internalizes the music, and comes to terms with it, without concern for how it will be perceived, its bound to sound different, Pratt told Robinson. I want to leave an audience with a sense of what these pieces of music are all about, why the composers were so moved they had to write it down on paper. In his interview with Newsweeks Chang, Pratt said, Ill listen to five or six recordings (of a composition), and all the musicians are doing the same thing. And the interpretation will make no sense.

Performed At Many Concerts and Recitals

Initially featured in recitals and concerto performances as a Beethoven interpreter, his concert career took him to New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Los Angeles. He appeared on the September of 1994 PBS television concert honoring Mystislav Rostropovitch, broadcast live from the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.A concert appearance at the White House, at the invitation of President and Mrs. Bill Clinton, followed. He would perform again at the White House in 2000. He also began conducting during this time. Concert appearances with major symphony orchestras during the 1994-95 season included performances with the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestras, the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington D.C., and the Minnesota Orchestra. He also performed with the Atlanta, St. Louis, and Cincinnati Symphony orchestras. Pratt made his debuts at Chicagos Ravinia Festival, Clevelands Blossom Music Festival, and the Caramoor Music Festival in the summer of 1995.

Pratt had a full and demanding schedule as well during the 1995-96 concert season, including debut appearances as soloist with the Pittsburgh, Detroit, and New Jersey Symphony orchestras and the Buffalo Philharmonic, and return engagements with the Atlanta, St. Louis, and Seattle symphony orchestras. In addition to recital appearances at New Yorks Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center, he also made his recital debut in Capetown, South Africa, in December of 1995. On February 23-24, 1996, his tour schedule brought him to Nashville, Tennessee, where he performed the Saint-Saens 4th Piano Concerto with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.

Following a debut appearance at the Aspen Festival in the summer of 1996, Pratt traveled to Japan for recital and concert appearances in Osaka and Tokyo in September of 1996. His demanding schedule resumed during the 1996-97 season, with engagements with the New York Philharmonic and National Symphony Orchestras and recitals at Orchestra Hall in Chicago, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, and the Tonhalle in Zurich.

Continued to Release Albums

Pratt released another album in 1996. It was an all-Beethoven album of sonatas. His next album, Live from South Africa, featured works for piano, was released in January of 1997. He also released Transformations in 1999.

Pratt has presented a challenging persona in his visage, his appearance on stage, his manner of addressing his instrument, and in the general aura he projects. He made full use of the tonal nuances and sound spectrum available from his instrument to interpret his varied repertoire. His is a forceful presence; in dreadlocks, he evokes something of the free spirit of one of his favorite composers, Ludwig van Beethoven. He evinces controlled energy, dressing comfortably, often in turtle-neck and slacks and seldom in tuxedo, leaving himself free to marshal and direct his considerable technical abilities for interpreting the music. He sat low, on a specially designed bench, for greater control, directing his energies forward towards his instrument. He offers his audiences fresh approaches and is often rewarded with their enthusiastic praise. As for the music critics, for the most part he has had excellent reviews, with many writers commenting on his stage presence, command of pianistic technique, and his ability to convey both breadth and depth in his interpretations.

Pratts repertoire has been wide. Centered initially in the German classicistsBeethoven, Mozart, and Bachhe also featured the Romantics and French nineteenth century composers. Principally presented in concert and on records as a piano soloist with orchestra as well as in solo recitals, he has conducted both from the piano and before the orchestra in symphonic works. He has also performed in chamber music programs. His concerts have taken him to four continents to audiences in the major cities of the United States, Europe, South Africa, and Asia. Pratt shows great promise of standing in the forefront of our interpreters of the classical repertoire for the piano.

An unavoidable subtext to Pratts story is his race. The number of African-American pianists can be counted on one hand, Robinson pointed out. Until recently, the best-known black soloists have been Leon Bates and Andre Watts, both of whom had established their careers by the time Pratt was born. Pratts agent, Linda Marder, told one interviewer it was important for Pratt to be taken seriously as a concert pianistnot qualified as an African-American concert pianist. On the other hand, Pratts race carries with it special opportunities and responsibilities. His audiences, for example, are more racially integrated than most that attend classical concerts. And Pratt regularly plays for and talks about music with minority school children. He also started the Pratt Music Foundation that provides instruments, classes and awards scholarships to students. His goal, Barron wrote in New York Times, is to be a role model for black teenagers, to demystify classical music, and to prove that professional sports are not are only paths to fame. Pratt, meanwhile, sees a day when his race and the superficial differences that set him apart will stop garnering notice and the attention will focus where it belongs, on his music. I sort of expect that, in time, all the excess stuff wont be news: the bench, the dreadlocks, the blackness, he told Barron. Not new news. When I wear t-shirts at a performance, thats what makes me comfortable. A tux, that creates barriers.

Selected works

A Long Way from Normal, EMI Classics, 1994.

Beethoven Piano Sonatas, EMI Classics, 1996.

Transformations, EMI Classics, 1999.

Sources

Books

Contemporary Musicians, volume 19, Gale Research, 1997.

Notable Black American Men, volume 19, Gale Research, 1998.

Periodicals

Amsterdam News, September 21, 1996.

American Record Guide 57, September-October 1994.

American Visions, October/November 1994, pp. 48.

Bermuda Royal Gazette, January 24, 1997.

Charlotte Observer, October 1, 1995.

Chicago Sun Times, March 31, 1996.

Crisis 101, July 1994, pp. 49-51.

Detroit Journal, December 12, 1996.

Emerge, February 1995, p. 72.

Nashville Banner, February 26, 1996.

Nashville Tennessean, February 23, 1996; May 28, 1997.

Newsweek, Nov. 25, 1996, p. 79C.

New York Times, February 1995, pp. 244-245.

People, August 17, 1992.

Stereo Review, September 1994, pp. 111-112.

Online

Awadagin Pratt Website, http://www.awadaginpratt.com

Other

IMG Artists Presskit, and 1997 update.

Darius L. Thieme and Ashyia N. Henderson

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"Pratt, Awadagin 1966–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Pratt, Awadagin

Awadagin Pratt

Pianist

A Normal Childhood

A Triple Talent

Pratts Community Concerns

Selected discography

Sources

Pianist Awadagin Pratt is an engaging and exciting new presence in the world of classical music, where his passionate playing and unique interpretations have invigorated works by such composers as Brahms, Beethoven, Franck, and Liszt. Pratt, however, has garnered as much attention for superficialities that set him apart on the classical concert stage as he has for his musical prowess. First of all, he is youngin his early 30sand he is black. He wears his shoulder-length hair in dreadlocks. He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, far from the glitter. When he plays, he sits at a low-riding 14-inch bench. And he is likely to perform in T-shirt or a black shirt and pants accented with a colorful tie rather than the more traditional tuxedo. Prattwhose first name is pronounced ah-wah-DODGE-intold NewsweeksYah. lin Chang that people who learn he is a musician often assume he is part of a rock band. That is something, however, he finds uninteresting. I dont have an interest in pop music, he said. By and large, I find it to be boring. Rhythmically boring, harmonically boring, and melodically possibly interesting but for a very short time.

Pratt burst onto the scene in 1992, when he won the prestigious Naumburg International Piano Competition at Lincoln Center in New York City. He was the first African-American to win an international instrumental competition victory in the Naumburg Competition and first black instrumentalist since Andre Watts to get a recording contract with a major label. He is described as an independent and strong-willed man who has brought a challenging style and a sensual, intellectual virtuosity to classical music. Pratt plays with a full-bodied intensity that can be at turns intimate and grandly heart-wrenching, Chang wrote. He has a story to tell, and you can hear him agonizing over every twist. Pratt commands your unfailing attentionwithout ever getting ostentatious.

Robin P. Robinson, writing in Emerge magazine, said Pratt challenges the establishment and fans alike, forcing them to rethink the way music is perceived and heard. In the New York Times, James Barron called Pratt a hot young pianist with a big sound and a knack for tackling fast, risky passages. And Robert Mann, president of the Naumburg Foundation, said the young pianist has a rare gift. Very few artists create a sense that the music is theirs.

A Normal Childhood

Pratt was born in Pittsburgh and grew up in Normal, IL, where his father was a physics professor and his mother was a professor of social work at I llinois State University.

For the Record

Born in Pittsburgh, PA. Education: Studied piano and violin at the University of Illinois and went on to graduate from the Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore.

Awards: Won the prestigious Naumburg International Piano Competition at Lincoln Center in New York City in 1992.

Addresses: Home Albuquerque, New Mexico. Record company EMI Music, 21700 Oxnard St., #700, Woodland Hills, CA 91367.

He began studying piano at age 6 and the violin when he was 9. As a child, however, tennis was more important to Pratt than musicand he was good enough at the game to turn professional. I was aware that I showed some reasonable level of proficiency (as a musician), but it was never a prodigy-type thing, he told Robinson. I was much more involved in tennis. My sister and I were both ranked regionally. It wasnt until I was about 16 that I decided to pursue music seriously. Pratt, in fact, appropriated his dreadlock hairstyle from tennis star Yannick Noah.

A Triple Talent

Pratt enrolled in the University of Illinois to study piano and violin. At age 18, he declared himself financially independent from his parents because they disapproved of his plans to be a performer rather than a music instructor. After three years at Illinois, he prepared to transfer to another institution. The New England Conservatory accepted him as a violinist but not as a pianist, while the Cleveland Institute accepted him as a pianist, but not as a violinist. Pratt elected to attend the Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore, where he became the first person in the schools 137-year history to graduate with three areas of concentration: piano, violin and conducting. In 1990, he decided to focus on the piano and conductingand let the violin go. Its just that the piano has more repertoire, he said. Theres a much greater selection of music I like.

Pratts victory in the Naumburg Competition in May 1992and the $5,000 prize, lucrative 40-city concert tour, and recording contract it brought himcame just in time. He had passed up another competition the previous month because he couldnt scrape together the $60 entrance fee. Even so, he never lost sight of his purpose. After winning Naumburg, Pratt told People magazine: The audiencethe peopleyou want them to be moved by your music. I always figured if I had that going for me, everything else would work outregardless of whether someone thought I should cut my hair.

Pratts repertoire puts a new spin on classic compositions. He leans towardprobing, dense pieces by composers such as Brahms, Franck, and Liszt, rather than the more commercially popular Mozart or Vivaldi, Robinson wrote in Emerge. Some critics have found Pratts style and interpretation of the music a bit disconcerting because it doesnt always sound the way theyre accustomed to hearing it. The criticism seems not to faze him. As far as hes concerned, no two musicians should be able to play the same piece of music exactly the same way. If one does completely play, internalizes the music, and comes to terms with it, without concern for how it will be perceived, its bound to sound different, Pratt told Robinson. I want to leave an audience with a sense of what these pieces of music are all about, why the composers were so moved they had to write it down on paper. In his interview with Newsweek. Chang, Pratt said, Ill listen to five or six recordings (of a composition), and all the musicians are doing the same thing. And the interpretation will make no sense.

Pratts approach has earned him prestigious awards, critically acclaimed albums, and an invitation to play at the White House in 1994. Following the release of his debut recordcalled A Long Way from Normal reviewers raved about his ability to bring fire and freshness to familiar works, including Francks Prelude, Chorale and Fugue. Pratt has plenty of taste, artistry, and insight, all of which are immediately apparent in his comparatively light-textured, deftly colored rendition of Liszts Funerailles Stereo Review magazine opined. (He) seems to be a rare bird among competition winners: Hes at home in the virtuoso repertory but comes across best in more introspective works that require genuine artistry(T)his is a wonderfully satisfying and promising debut album.

Pratts Community Concerns

An unavoidable subtext to Pratts story is his race. The number of African-American pianists can be counted on one hand, Robinson pointed out. Until recently, the best-known black soloists havebeen Leon Bates and Andre Watts, both of whom had established their careers by the time Pratt was born. Pratts agent, Linda Marder, told one interviewer it was important for Pratt to be taken seriously as a concert pianistnot qualified as an African-American concert pianist. On the other hand, Pratts race carries with it special opportunities and responsibilities. His audiences, for example, are more racially integrated than most that attend classical concerts. And Pratt regularly plays for and talks about music with minority school children. His goal, Barron wrote in New York Times, is to be a role model for black teenagers, to demystify classical music, and to prove that professional sports are not are only paths to fame. Pratt, meanwhile, sees a day when his race and the superficial differences that set him apart will stop garnering noticeand the attention will focus where it belongs, on his music. I sort of expect that, in time, all the excess stuff wont be news: the bench, the dreadlocks, the blackness, hetolcl Barron. Not newnews. When I wear t-shirts at a performance, thats what makes me comfortable. A tux, that creates barriers.

Selected discography

A Long Way from Normal, 1994, EMI Classics.

Beethoven Piano Sonatas, 1996, EMI Classics.

Sources

American Visions, October/November 1994, pp. 48.

Emerge, February 1995, p. 72.

Newsweek, Nov. 25, 1996, p. 79C.

New York Times, February 1995, pp. 244-245.

People, August 17, 1992.

Stereo Review, September 1994, pp. 111-112.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Pratt, Awadagin." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Pratt, Awadagin." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/pratt-awadagin

"Pratt, Awadagin." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved May 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/pratt-awadagin