Former School of Music Dean and professor Ezra Laderman has been elected president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a prestigious national arts organization.

A professor of composition, Laderman will be responsible in his new position for leading meetings of the 250-member Academy, a national organization founded in 1898 by Congress to promote excellence in the arts, literature and musical composition. Martin Bresnick, another professor of composition at the School of Music, was also elected to the Academy last month.

Acting School of Music Dean Thomas Duffy said Laderman’s election to the three-year presidency is an unprecedented honor for Yale.

“It is a huge honor and award,” Duffy said. “Out of all schools, only one has the president. [The Academy] is a select society to which admissions is based on merit. The Pulitzer Prize is awarded to an excellent piece of music, whereas election to the Academy is recognition of a lifetime of excellence.”

Each Academy member is elected for life, and new members are elected only when a current member passes away, Academy Director Virginia Dajani said. The Academy organizes art-purchase programs that have placed about 1,200 donated paintings in museums across the country, Dajani said, and gives away approximately $1 million a year in prizes.

She said Laderman, who holds degrees from Brooklyn College and Columbia University, was chosen for his strong leadership background in the arts.

“The intent is that we are recognizing the top of each department in the arts, literature and composition,” she said. “We’re very happy to have [Laderman] as president. He brings his skills as former Yale chairman to us as a very high energy executive and consensus builder.”

It is unusual for a composer to be elected to the presidency of the Academy, and Laderman is only the sixth to do so, Dajani said.

Laderman said he is moved to have been chosen as Academy president.

“I’m among the great architects, poets, writers and painters of all time,” he said. “Just to spend time with them and be in their company is inspiring. But what makes it extra special is that we identify young, gifted people in the arts.”

One of the important functions of the Academy, Laderman said, is recognizing relatively unknown artists at the beginning or middle of their careers. He said recognition by the Academy can not only boost an artist’s career but can also give struggling artists confidence in their work.

“If you get an award from a panel, my God, that means [the members] think the world of you,” he said.

As president, Laderman said, he will also attend Academy dinners and get-togethers, as well as the annual extravaganza in May when the organization inducts its new members and presents award money.

In his spare time, Laderman said, he enjoys attending operas and concerts, including shows at Toad’s Place.

“Standing in line for three hours is quite draining,” he said.