Celebrated School of Music alumnus Rodney Sharman was announced as the recipient of the $50,000 Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts on November 20.

Composer & celebrated Music alumnus Rodney Sharman (photo: Bell Ancell)

Awarded by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Walter Carsen Prize recognizes the highest level of artistic excellence and distinguished career achievements by a Canadian professional artist in music, theatre or dance.

Established in 2001, this prize is only awarded to musicians once every four years.

“I feel honoured,” says Sharman in a press release. “I am also pleased to be able to devote time to writing pieces I have been thinking about for years.”

One of Canada’s most frequently performed composers, Sharman graduated from UVic with a Bachelor of Music in 1980 with a focus on composition, before going on to study at Staatliche Hochschule für Musik (Freiburg, Germany) and the State University of New York at Buffalo, from which he received a Ph.D. He was awarded first prize in the 1984 CBC Competition for Young Composers and Germany’s 1990 Kranichsteiner Prize in Music, Darmstadt.

“We are delighted that Rodney Sharman has been awarded this prize,” says composer Christopher Butterfield, a fellow Music alumnus and current Director of UVic’s School of Music. “Rodney is one of Canada’s most vital composers: his music is a powerful mixture of beauty and rigour — it has a recognizable style, marked as much by its exquisite orchestration as by the clarity of its form. And it is always beautiful.”

“He is one of the reasons UVic developed its reputation as a preeminent training ground for young composers,” continues Butterfield. “Rodney joins composer R. Murray Schafer, flutist Robert Aitken and the Gryphon Trio as being only the fourth musical artist to be so honoured by the Walter Carsen Prize.”

Originally from Biggar, Saskatchewan, but now based in Vancouver, Sharman is currently Composer-in-Residence of Early Music Vancouver’s New Music for Old Instruments. Among his many credits are a number of Composer-in-Residence positions with the likes of the Victoria Symphony, National Youth Orchestra of Canada and Vancouver Symphony, as well as having served as Composer-Host with the Calgary Philharmonic’s New Music Festival, Hear and Now.

Sharmon in his early days as a composer

In addition to concert music, Sharman writes music for cabaret, opera and dance. He regularly writes scores for choreographer James Kudelka’s works at the Oregon Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet and Citadel Compagnie (Toronto).

“I am touched, too, that my first dance collaboration with James Kudelka — Thrust — was dedicated to Walter Carsen in celebration of his 2000 Ramon John Hnatyshyn award for volunteerism in the performing arts,” notes Sharman.

Recent premieres include Notes on “Beautiful”, a 2010 transformation of music by Stephen Sondheim for New York pianist Anthony de Mare, and Violin Concerto, for Jonathan Crow and the Victoria Symphony conducted by Tania Miller in 2011. His chamber opera, Elsewhereless, with libretto and direction by Atom Egoyan, was performed in concert in Amsterdam, and has been staged 35 times since its 1998 premiere in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver.

Sharman was also please to share the announcement with Montreal-raised cellist Vanessa Hunt, who won the $25,000 Virginia Parker Prize, which is devoted to an artist under 32 who shows outstanding talent. “Her parents and I went to the Victoria Conservatory of Music together. Vanessa is also a wonderful interpreter of my work,” Sharman told Vancouver’s Georgia Straight in this article.