"Through her performances, award-winning recordings, teaching, and commissions," says her award citation, "Upshaw is breaking down stylistic barriers and forging a new model of a performer who is directly involved in the creation of contemporary music."
Now 47, Upshaw first gained fame as a (relatively) conventional lyric soprano, garnering praise for her operatic and concert performances of music ranging from Bach and Mozart through 19th-century art song to Stravinsky and Poulenc. She then used the clout she had earned not only to extend her own range but also to enlarge the entire classical vocal repertoire.
Upshaw is one of a relatively few classical singers who can regularly perform vernacular American song (e.g., Vernon Duke, Kurt Weill, Marc Blitzstein) with real success. Yet she is best known today for her work with new music, helping to develop a new body of contemporary classical works — by such composers as John Adams, Kaija Saariaho and Osvaldo Golijov — that attract audiences as well as critics. Her 1992 recording of Henryk G‹recki's Symphony No. 3, with conductor David Zinman and the London Sinfonietta, remains one of the bestselling contemporary classical CDs ever released.
Following a hiatus of several months to be treated for breast cancer, Upshaw returned to performing earlier this year. This past summer she sang the London premiere of Saariaho's La Passion de Simone, which was written for her but whose world premiere she had to miss due to her health difficulties, and she had three recordings of Golijov's music on the Billboard classical chart.
Beginning with this season, Upshaw is an Artistic Partner with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. She is also the founding artistic director of the Graduate Program in Vocal Arts at the Bard College Conservatory of Music, which began in earnest last year.
The MacArthur Fellowships — popularly known as the "genius awards" — are given each year to support outstanding and innovative work in such fields as research science, literature, the visual and performing arts and health care. The associated cash grants, paid out over five years, are intended to allow the Fellows to devote themselves to their creative work, free (temporarily) from worries about making a steady living. The MacArthur Fellowships are worth $500,000.
MacArthur Fellows are nominated by experts in their fields. One cannot apply for a fellowship and potential recipients do not know they are being considered.
More information about the MacArthur Fellowships and the 2007 Fellows can be found at www.macfound.org.