April 11, 2023

CIM composer Keith Fitch wins prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship

A portrait of composer Keith Fitch at the piano with sheet music.

Like the famous sloped ramp at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the profile of CIM composer Keith Fitch just keeps rising. 

Late last week, Fitch was named a 2023 Guggenheim Fellow, a prestigious award that puts him in rare company with such renowned cultural icons as Martha Graham, Aaron Copland, Philip Roth and Thelonious Monk.  

“It’s a veritable who’s-who of American culture and scholarship,” said Fitch, head of composition at CIM and director of CIM’s New Music Ensemble. “I feel like I’ve been let into the club, in a way. If I think about it too much, it’s a little overwhelming.”  

Since its founding in 1925 by Simon and Olga Guggenheim in honor of their son, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has granted nearly $400 million in fellowships to some 18,000 artists and scholars. Among them are famed creators in all fields as well as winners of Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes, the Fields Medal and the National Book Award.  

The foundation’s mission is to “further the development of scholars and artists by assisting them to engage in research in any field of knowledge and creation in any of the arts, under the freest possible conditions.” 

In Fitch’s case, the fellowship amounts to an enormous gift of time, a composer’s most valuable resource.  

Fitch said he plans to use the one-year award, which commences in June, to complete a work that’s been on his mind for over a decade: a piece of chamber music highlighting instruments in Picasso paintings. The score will be titled “Picasso’s Guitar” and dedicated to former CIM guitar department co-head Colin Davin. He plans to continue teaching during the fellowship.  

“I can now take as much time as I need to compose, while still honoring my commitment to CIM,” Fitch said. “I’m chomping at the bit to get started.”  

The Guggenheim Fellowship is Fitch’s most prestigious honor to date, but it is far from his first significant award. Already on his resume are three ASCAP Young Composer Awards, three National Society of Arts and Letters awards, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Copland House Residency, and awards from the Indiana Arts Commission, Ohio Arts Council, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Fromm Foundation. 

His music also has been widely recognized. In addition to performances by ensembles at CIM and members of The Cleveland Orchestra, Fitch counts performances by The Philadelphia Orchestra, the American Composers Orchestra, the St. Luke’s Chamber Orchestra, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, among many others.  

Still, a Guggenheim Fellowship stands apart, Fitch noted, in that it is granted by previous winners and can only be received once in a lifetime.  

“There’s something about a Guggenheim that is different,” Fitch said. “To receive this from my peers, from others who’ve gone through this process themselves? For me, this is definitely a career-defining moment.” 

(Photo by Alex Cooke)