Jonathan Tunick has been awarded his first-ever honorary degree as part of a 75th birthday salute at the Bass School of Music at Oklahoma City University.
With a career as an orchestrator, composer and music director that has spanned five decades, Tunick is one of only 11 artists to have won each of the four major awards of the entertainment industry: the Tony, Oscar, Emmy and Grammy.
Oklahoma City University’s salute to Tunick incorporates a performance of Leonard Bernstein’s MASS: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers. The work, featuring Tunick’s orchestrations, was co-produced by OCU and the Canterbury Choral Society featuring the 80-member OCU Symphony Orchestra and more than 180 singers at Oklahoma City’s historic Civic Center Music Hall.
Tunick’s honorary degree was presented in a Petree Recital Hall ceremony where vocaists and OCU’s Into the Woods pit orchestra performed selections from Tunick’s catalog in addition to the traditional Pomp and Circumstance.
“Jonathan Tunick is a master artist,” said Mark Parker, dean of the Bass School. “He has set a standard of excellence that has made a lasting mark on American musical theater. Recognizing him with a Doctor of Musical Arts reflects our admiration for his immense talent and serves as acknowledgement of the awe his work has inspired in each of us.”
Oklahoma City University is alma mater to Broadway veterans such as Ron Raines, Kelli O’Hara and Kristin Chenoweth; opera headliners Sarah Coburn, Marquita Lister and Leona Mitchell; conductors Linda Twine, Jerry Steichen and Tim Long and composer Mason Williams. Other musicians honored with honorary OCU degrees include Placido Domingo and Frederick Fennell.
Stephen Sondheim has said of his longtime collaborator: “Jonathan Tunick is -- you know, I’ve said it many times -- the best orchestrator in the history of the theater. There are many who are as skilled as putting instruments together as Jonathan, but not any who have the sense of theater he has ...That’s the thing I value most in Jonathan. His dramatic instinct.”
Tunick was guest of honor at Oklahoma City University’s April 13 production of MASS. Also in attendance: Jamie Bernstein, daughter of composer Leonard Bernstein. She met with the student composers of Project 21: Music for the 21st Century to discuss her father’s life and legacy. On the morning of the MASS performance, Bernstein also gave the keynote address at OCU’s inaugural El Sistema Symposium.
While on campus, Tunick led a master class for student composers and offered sessions on orchestration and the collaborative process. He took center stage with David Herendeen, OCU’s longtime director of opera and music theater, for a discussion of “Broadway Then and Now,” focusing on his observations of the past, present and possible future of the American musical theater.
In addition to Tunick, only 10 others have won the Tony, Oscar, Emmy and Grammy: actors John Gielgud, Helen Hayes, Audrey Hepburn, Rita Moreno and Whoopi Goldberg; fellow composers Marvin Hamlisch and Richard Rodgers; directors Mel Brooks and Mike Nichols; and producer Scott Rudin.