The Vilcek Foundation is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2023 Vilcek Foundation Prizes in Music. A part of the foundation’s annual prizes program, the Vilcek Foundation Prizes in Music—totaling $350,000 in awards—celebrate immigrant composers, songwriters, singers, and performers living and working in the United States. The prizes also help build awareness of the vital role immigration plays in enriching intellectual and cultural life in our society.
The 2023 Vilcek Foundation Prizes in Music are awarded to:
- Du Yun (b. China)
- Angélique Kidjo (b. Benin)
- Arooj Aftab (b. Saudi Arabia, to Pakistani parents)
- Juan Pablo Contreras (b. Mexico)
- Ruby Ibarra (b. Philippines)
We congratulate all of this year’s Vilcek Foundation Prizewinners, and are grateful for the profound impact of their work on the arts, culture, and society.
Vilcek Prizes in Music
The Vilcek Prize in Music is awarded to an artist whose career work represents a substantial contribution to their genre, and whose artistic leadership has inspired audiences and artists alike. Recipients of the Vilcek Prize in Music receive a cash award of $100,000. For 2023, the Vilcek Foundation chose to award two Vilcek Prizes in Music, to Du Yun and Angélique Kidjo.
“With the 2023 Vilcek Prizes in Music, it was important to us to recognize a range of musicians: from those in the halls of classical music, to the songwriters and performers whose songs vibrate across the airwaves around the world,” said Marica Vilcek, Cofounder, Vice Chair, and Secretary of the Vilcek Foundation. “Music transcends language, borders, and boundaries. Du Yun’s and Angélique Kidjo’s work exemplifies this, from Du Yun’s arresting operas and electrifying postmodern compositions, to Kidjo’s charismatic presence on the global music stage for more than 40 years.”
Du Yun receives the Vilcek Prize in Music for her open approach to composition, which subverts the boundaries of traditional classical music by incorporating influences from punk, electronic, experimental music, and for the virtuosity of her Pulitzer Prize–winning opera, Angel’s Bone.
Born in Shanghai, China, Du Yun began studying piano at the age of 4 and began attending the Preparatory Divisions of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music at age 6. She came to the United States to pursue higher education in music, earning her bachelor’s at Oberlin Conservatory and her PhD in Music Composition at Harvard University.
Du Yun is a cofounder of the International Contemporary Ensemble, a contemporary classical music ensemble committed to advancing experimental music through collaborations, commissions, and performances. In 2018, she established the Pan Asia Sounding Festival to challenge and subvert Western presentations of Asian artists. Held at National Sawdust in Brooklyn in 2018 and 2019, the festival embodied the spirit of Asian futurism, presenting new works on the cutting edge of contemporary performance. In 2018 she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in Music Composition.
Angélique Kidjo receives the Vilcek Prize in Music in recognition of her exceptional range as a singer-songwriter, and for bringing African music to the global stage through her performances, albums, and collaborations. Born in Ouidah, Benin, Kidjo made her musical debut with the album Pretty in 1981. Following a political coup in 1983, Kidjo moved to Paris, France, seeking to pursue a career in music where she could exercise freedom of speech without fear of persecution. She rose to international fame in the 1990s with albums like Logozo, Ayé, and Fifa.
In 1997 Kidjo immigrated to the United States; she moved to Brooklyn, New York, where she began work on a trilogy of albums exploring the music of the Black diaspora in the Americas: Oremi, Black Ivory Soul, and Oyaya!. Since then, Kidjo has continued to write, record, and tour extensively, while undertaking humanitarian work as an international Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF and with the Batonga Foundation, which she founded in 2006.
Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise in Music
The 2023 Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise in Music are awarded to early- and mid-career immigrant musicians, composers, and performers living and working in the United States. Candidates for the Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise are identified through an open call for applications; recipients are selected for the aesthetic rigor and cultural impact of their work. Creative Promise Prizewinners receive a commemorative certificate and an unrestricted cash award of $50,000. The 2023 Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise in Music are awarded to Arooj Aftab, Juan Pablo Contreras, and Ruby Ibarra.
Arooj Aftab receives the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Music for her evocative songs and compositions that incorporate a range of influences from semi-classical Pakistani music and Urdu poetry, to jazz harmonies and experimental music. Her blend of ancient traditions and contemporary style has earned her mainstream recognition, including a 2022 Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, and a 2022 Grammy for Best Global Performance. Born in Saudi Arabia to Pakistani parents, Aftab found music as an outlet for self-identification and discovery. She immigrated to the United States in 2005 to pursue studies in music composition and engineering at the Berklee College of Music.
Juan Pablo Contreras receives the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Music for his work as a composer and conductor of orchestral music that draws on his Mexican heritage, and for his leadership in founding the Orquesta Latino Mexicana. Contreras’ compositions tell stories about Mexico from an immigrant perspective. A dedicated teacher and mentor, Contreras seeks to empower the next generation of musicians and to foster equity and inclusion in orchestral programming, and seeks to expand classical music curriculum beyond its traditionally Eurocentric focus. Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Contreras immigrated to the United States in 2006. He holds degrees from the California Institute of the Arts (BFA), the Manhattan School of Music (MM), and the University of Southern California (DMA).
Ruby Ibarra receives the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Music for her personal and evocative hip-hop and spoken word performances that center her experiences as a Filipina American woman, and as an immigrant growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Born in Tacloban City in the Philippines, Ibarra immigrated to the United States with her family in 1991. Her debut mixtape, Lost in Translation, and her 2017 album, CIRCA91, explore themes including immigration, colorism, and misogyny. In addition to her music, Ibarra is a dedicated activist, and in 2018 she founded the Pinays Rising Scholarship program.