Michael P. Hammond, the recently sworn-in chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, was found dead in his Washington, DC, home the morning of Jan. 29, only one week after he took his post at the government agency that promotes — and awards grants for — arts education, projects and artists, the NEA announced.
He was sworn in as chair Jan. 22. The 69-year-old composer and conductor likely died from natural causes, an NEA spokesperson said. Previously, Mr. Hammond was dean of the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston. He is a former composer who formerly served as composer in residence for the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. The NEA's annual budget is $115 million.
"With the deepest regret, we announce the death of Michael P. Hammond, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts," said Mark Weinberg, spokesman for the NEA. "It is a tragic loss for our nation that his tenure has been cut so short. All of us at the NEA had looked forward to his leadership, and we join our colleagues in the arts community in mourning his passing."
Until President Bush nominates a successor, the acting chair will be senior deputy chairman Eileen Mason.
At Rice he wrote the architectural program for the new music building, Alice Pratt Brown Hall, designed by Ricardo Bofill. He has also served as the founding Rector of the Prague Mozart Academy in the Czech Republic, later the European Mozart Academy. He has served on the Board of the Houston Symphony and served on the search committee for the new conductor of the Houston Symphony.
Educated at Lawrence University, Delhi University (India) and, as a Rhodes Scholar, at Oxford University, Mr. Hammond has written numerous scores for theatre. His special interests included the music of Southeast Asia, Western Medieval and Renaissance music, and the relationships between neuroscience and music. He earned his degree at Oxford in philosophy, psychology and physiology and taught neuroanatomy and physiology at Marquette Medical School where he held a post-doctoral research fellowship from the National Insitututes of Health and the University of Wisconsin. In October, 1999, he gave the keynote lecture at the International Symposium on the Neuroscience of Music in Niigata, Japan.
He has held positions as associate conductor of the American Symphony with Leopold Stokowski, conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic, musical director and conductor of the Dessoff Choirs in New York City.
In Texas, he has been Director of Canticum, an ensemble for the performance of Medieval and Renaissance vocal music. He also lectured annually at the Texas Medical Center in the series "Health Care and the Arts." In March, 2000, he directed a production of Stravinsky's opera, The Rake's Progress, at Rice University, assisted by his son Thomas, a professional actor living in New York.
Mr. Hammond is survived by his wife, Anne Lilley Hammond, and son Thomas M. Hammond. Funeral arrangements are pending.
— By Kenneth Jones