Touching Base: Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti ’02

On A High Note

Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti ’02 made headlines last May when she was named a finalist for the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her string orchestra composition “with eyes the color of time.” Much of Lanzilotti’s work is grounded in experimentation and translations of sound. And her musical voice, she says, is informed in part by her explorations of her Native Hawaiian heritage. 

“It was an incredible honor to be a finalist!” she says. “And what a joy to be recognized alongside Raven Chacon, the first Native American to win the Pulitzer Prize for music.”

Her 32-minute piece was inspired by her childhood at The Contemporary Museum in Honolulu, which closed after 31 years in 2019. Lanzilotti’s mother, Louise Keali‘iloma King ’66 Lanzilotti, was the museum’s first curator of education, so she spent many hours exploring its gardens and galleries. 

“The works chosen for the piece were works I had grown up around,” she says, adding that her upbringing was filled with music and encouragement to sing, play instruments and explore sounds. 

After graduating from Punahou, the Honolulu native spent 20 years studying and living on the continental U.S. and in Europe. She moved back to O‘ahu in 2021. 

One of her recent works honored late artist Isamu Noguchi’s 1977 Sky Gate sculpture outside Honolulu Hale. Her composition was written for 10 musicians and was co-commissioned by the Mayor’s Office of Culture and the Arts and Chamber Music Hawai‘i. With a late May debut, the work also celebrated Lāhainā Noon, a phenomenon when the sun passes directly overhead, causing upright objects to have no shadows – a time of great power in Hawaiian culture. It’s also when Noguchi’s sculpture projects a perfect ring on the ground. The musicians were spread around the sculpture to encourage listeners to engage with the space and be present with one another.

Most recently, she spent time in Italy with the Bogliasco Foundation. As an Edward T. Cone Bogliasco Special Fellow in Music, she’s been working on a new solo violin piece based on an exploration and encoding of cartographic processes. 

She’s also working on a new opera about Queen Lili‘uokalani’s time under house arrest. Lanzilotti plans to write original music and incorporate the queen’s own words from writings and songs. She hopes to help preserve Hawaiian language and culture through this process.  

“To exist today as a Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) is an act of bravery,” she says. “There are so many ways of being Kānaka Maoli: whether or not you can speak the language, whether or not you dance the hula, whether or not you surf, whether or not you work in a lo‘i. I am a contemporary indigenous person, and I exist in all the complexities of what it means to be hapa, and what it means to be grappling with historical trauma as well as joy filtered through time.”

She adds that artists create opportunities to gather people together so they can ask questions about themselves and their assumptions and to share perspectives. 

“If ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i exists and is a part of the discourse in contemporary art and life then it is alive and well,” she says. “And my work is somewhere in that dialogue, of being visible, present, asking questions, and bringing things to life in the present as a contemporary Kānaka Maoli.”

By Noelle Fujii-Oride

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