On Monday, January 12, 2004, French Cultural Counselor Jean-René Gehan presented American mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and composer Ned Rorem with the medal of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters, at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy at 972 Fifth Avenue in New York.
Ned Rorem and Susan Graham
One of the most-sought after singers of our time, Susan Graham has performed most of the lyric mezzo-soprano roles in opera, art song, and symphonic literature. She specializes in French music, and has performed Didon in Berlioz' Les Troyens at Paris's Chatelet Theater, appeared in Roméo and Juliette with the Orchestre de Paris, and assumed the title role in the Metropolitan Opera's production of Franz Lehàr's The Merry Widow.
The Washington Post called Graham "among the most capable, versatile, and altogether winning mezzo sopranos now before the public."
In her acceptance speech, Graham recalled how, as girl in New Mexico, France always represented a place of sophistication for her, and how she wept at her first sight of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Tenor Paul Groves and Susan Graham
American composer Ned Rorem was called "the world's best composer of art songs" by Time Magazine. Raised in Chicago, Rorem lived in France from 1949 until 1958. He became a leading figure of the artistic and social milieu of post-war Europe and wrote The Paris Diary and a dozen further volumes of diaries and essays. His honors include a Fullbright Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Ford Foundation Prize, a Koussevitsky Foundation prize, and a 1976 Pulitzer Prize for his suite "Air Music." The Atlanta Symphony's recording of his "String Symphony" earned a 1989 Grammy Award for Outstanding Orchestral Recording. In 1998 Musical America named him Composer of the Year. Since 2000 he has been President of The American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was recently awarded ASCAP's Lifetime Achievement Award.
French Cultural Counselor Jean-René Gehan named Rorem Chevalier dans l'ordre des arts et des lettres for Rorem's "enormous contributions to musical life and culture in America and France."
In his acceptance speech, Rorem said that he went to France "because
he was already French." He said that of all the awards he has lately
received, the Order of Arts and Letters was among the most important
to him personally. He thanked France in these words, "Without you
I would not be me. I owe you everyhting."
About the Order of Arts and Letters
France's Order of Arts and Letters was established in 1957 to recognize notable artists and writers, and those who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world.