Michael-Thomas Foumai, an alumnus and now lecturer for the UH Mānoa Department of Music, has won a 2017 ASCAP Foundation young composer award that encourages talented young creators of concert music. Past winners of the Morton Gould Young Composer Award, the country’s most prestigious and visible award for young composers from ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), include Pulitzer Prize-winning composers Jennifer Higdon, Aaron Jay Kernis and Kevin Puts.
Hawaiʻi-born Foumai, 29, attended Kawānanakoa Middle and Roosevelt High, and earned a bachelor’s degree from UH Mānoa and master and doctorate degrees from the University of Michigan. He returned to Oʻahu in 2015 to become a lecturer at the UH Department of Music, which is part of the College of Arts and Humanities.
“From a very young age I’ve always had a fascination with music and pictures, and constructing images with music. This comes from my love of movie scores, especially from the ‘Star Wars’ films,” said Foumai. “Many of the composers who have won this award have gone on to have exceptional careers, so I was thrilled to be notified of my selection by Cia Toscanini, ASCAP vice president of concert music, especially since there were a record number of applications this year.”
Foumai’s award-winning 25-minute long composition—featuring a flute, cello and piano—is titled “Manookian Murals.” It was first performed in December 2016 by the Dolce Suono Ensemble in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
“Manookian Murals” was inspired after Foumai met with a prospective UH Foundation donor who is a collector and aficionado of the works of Arman Manookian, an Armenian-American painter who is best known for his works depicting Hawaiian scenes.
“Manookian’s work had an immediate impact that touched upon all my senses," said Foumai. "One could see, hear, and nearly smell and taste the ancient Hawaiʻi that he envisioned."
Said Lawrence Paxton, chair of the Department of Music, “We are so proud of Michael being one of the recipients of this prestigious award. He highlights the vitality of our faculty and the uniqueness of our nationally respected Music Department and its innovative programs."
Added Foundation President Paul Williams, “Nurturing young talent is an essential part of The ASCAP Foundation’s mission. We congratulate these gifted young composers ranging in age from 15 to 30 and thank our dedicated panel of ASCAP members who selected composers from approximately 550 submissions.”
For more information on Foumai and “Manookian Murals,” and to hear a snippet of the composition, click here.