Another year, another round of MacArthur Foundation "genius" award winners, who are given $500,000 to use as they please, no strings attached. This year's New York-area winners include Radiolab host and producer Jad Abumrad, choral conductor and composer for the Young People's Chorus of New York City Francisco Nunez, Rutgers University European Historian Professor Jacob Soll, New Jersey silversmith/ restoration expert Ubaldo Vitali, jazz percussionist/composer Dafnis Prieto, and classical cellist Alisa Weilerstein.
The winners are notified with a surprise phone call that many think is a joke at first. "I was like, is this some Nigerian scam or something?" Abumrad said of receiving the call. Vitali didn't believe the voice on the other end of the phone, saying "It took me a couple days to realize it was true. Or at least I think it is." Weilerstein got "what I thought was a random email. I thought it was spam...It said, 'I've been trying to get in touch with you, can you please call me back.' And I replied, 'Well, I don't know who you are.' "