Composer Steve Reich and senior Maria Dizzia selected to receive new Cornell awards honoring distinction in the arts

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ITHACA, N.Y. -- Composer and Cornell University alumnus Steve Reich and senior Maria Dizzia have been selected as the first recipients of two new university awards to recognize excellence in the arts.

The Cornell University Alumni Award for Distinction in the Arts will be formally presented to Reich in February 1998 at a campus program. Dizzia will receive the Student Arts Award.

The awards, to be presented annually by the Cornell Council and the Cornell Council for the Arts, honor Cornell alumni who have achieved prominence in their field and an outstanding undergraduate or graduate student who is enrolled in one of Cornell's arts-related degree programs.

"These awards are designed to increase the awareness among alumni and the campus community of the extraordinary people who are doing extraordinary things in the arts," said Percy Browning '56, chairman of the Cultural Endeavors Committee of the Cornell Council.

Reich, 61, one of America's foremost contemporary composers, studied philosophy at Cornell. Before graduating in 1957, he was introduced to various music forms by Professor William Austin. Reich studied music composition privately before entering a formal music program at the Julliard School of Music and Mills College, where he received a master's degree in composition in 1963. Shortly after he formed his own group, Steve Reich and Musicians, and began to compose and record music noted for its instrumental and vocal combinations.

His trip to Ghana in the 1970s brought an African influence to his music and led to the release of Drumming, his first widely known work. Reich also enjoyed success pairing choral music with full-scale orchestration. His 1981 release, Tehillim (Hebrew for "psalms"), the first of his pieces for voice and orchestra, is considered to be one of his most impressive works. Its 1982 performance by the New York Philharmonic helped introduce minimalist music into established orchestral repertoire. He put the words of poet William Carlos Williams to music in his 1983 release,Desert Music.

He returned to writing smaller works in the late 1980s, but continued his experimental ways. His highly laudatory work Different Trains was composed as a response to the Holocaust. The piece synchronizes the voices of concentration camp survivors with train whistles and string quartets. This past July Nonesuch records released a 10-CD set of Reich's works, titled Works 1965 - 1995.

Dizzia has distinguished herself in Cornell's artistic community as a first-rate actress, appearing in eight Department of Theatre Arts productions, including Bananas, The House of Blue LeavesAngels in America and Measure for Measure. She has demonstrated a broad range of acting ability, playing both comedic and serious roles. She has excelled not only on stage but also in the classroom. As part of her honors thesis, she will conduct a Black Box laboratory to explore the gap between theory and practice as it relates to audience response.

Dizzia, a native of Cranford, N.J., entered Cornell as a second semester freshman in January 1994; she will graduate in December with a bachelor's degree in theatre. In 1990 she received the New Jersey Governor's Award in Theatre Arts and was honored two years later as the (N.J.) Governor's School of the Arts Scholar.

To be eligible for the Student Arts Award, students must be nominated by faculty in their academic departments. Nominations are reviewed by members of the Cultural Endeavors Committee of the Cornell Council and the Council for the Arts.