The Juilliard President’s Medal is given to people who’ve made an indelible impact on the arts and served as significant role models at Juilliard and in the broader performing arts community. In an action-packed trip to Los Angeles in early March, President Polisi presented two of them, to actor Michael Chieffo (Group 6) and composer John Williams (’55, composition). He also announced Williams’ phenomenal gift to the library (more on that below).
The occasion was a festive evening at the Four Seasons Hotel attended by 170 alumni and guests. This being a Juilliard event there were performances—Anne Akiko Meyers (Pre-College ’87; Certificate ’90, violin) and Bernadene Blaha (BM ’80, MM ’81, piano) played Williams’ haunting Theme from Schindler’s List and an arrangement of “When You Wish Upon a Star” arranged by Adam Schoenberg (MM ’05, DMA ’10, composition). And then it was time for the medals.
Noting that the Drama Division tries to instill in its students the principles of flexibility, curiosity, and living lives of constant exploration as working artists, Polisi lauded Michael Chieffo’s successful acting career and his exceptional generosity of time and spirit to the school. Chieffo was also honored for having taken the lead on alumni events in Los Angeles and in helping make the Drama 50th anniversary celebrations earlier this year such a resounding success. Polisi thanked Chieffo and his wife, actor Beth Grant, for having become—since their daughter Mary Chieffo (Group 44) entered Juilliard and following her graduation—“the West Coast headquarters for Juilliard Drama to the great benefit of our community.”
In presenting John Williams with his President’s Medal, Polisi cited the fact that he’s not only America’s preeminent composer of film music but also, “in the centuries-old tradition, a working musician who excels in many areas: conductor, arranger, pianist—classical and jazz—music director, and composer of concert music.”
And then Polisi broke the news that Juilliard was to be the recipient of a fabulous bequest from Williams—his complete library of concert music and film music scores as well as his sketchbooks. Williams, who said he’d looked up to Juilliard as a Mecca since his “earliest days as a fledgling piano student,” added that it was a privilege to donate the materials “to be made available to those students particularly interested in the intimate processes of film scoring.” The materials will be housed in the library as part of the Peter J. Sharp Special Collections.
For one of the alums in attendance the evening was particularly exciting. Adam Schoenberg, the composition alum who’d set “When You Wish Upon a Star,” said after the event that it was an honor to meet Williams. He also noted, “I wrote my DMA document on noted film composer Thomas Newman back in 2010, and it was quite challenging to secure his music from all of the movie studios that owned each copyright. It took many months, but once the music arrived, I was able to dive in and study Newman’s compositional process. Juilliard’s receiving Mr. Williams’ entire collection will provide future students immediate access into one of the greatest musical minds of our time. It’s an incredible gift.”