|Pulitzer Prize-winning composer
Yehudi Wyner has created a diverse body of over 60 works for orchestra,
chamber ensemble, solo performers, theater music, and liturgical
services. In addition to composing and teaching, his active and
eclectic musical career includes work as a performer, director of two
opera companies, and conductor of numerous ensembles in a wide range of
repertory. "A comprehensive musician, Mr. Wyner is an elegant pianist,
a fine conductor, a prolific composer, and a revered teacher. His works
show a deep understanding of what sounds good and is technically
efficient." (Anthony Tommasini, The
New York Times, 2009). His wife, Susan Davenny Wyner, has been
an enormous source of inspiration; a number of Wyner’s most strikingly
beautiful compositions were created specifically for her.
born in Western Canada
and grew up in New York City in a
musical family. His father, Lazar Weiner, was the preeminent composer
of Yiddish Art Song as well as a notable creator of liturgical music
for the modern synagogue. This early exposure paved the way for a
Diploma in piano from The Juilliard School and further musical
at Yale and Harvard Universities with composers Richard Donovan, Walter
Piston, and Paul Hindemith. A Handel course at Harvard brought Wyner to
the attention of Randall Thompson, who became a staunch supporter and
friend. In 1953, Wyner won the Rome Prize in Composition enabling him
to spend the next three years at the American Academy in Rome,
composing, performing, and traveling. Since then, he has received many
honors including the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his Piano
concerto "Chiavi in mano,"
two Guggenheim Fellowships, a grant from the American Institute of Arts
and Letters, and the Brandeis Creative Arts Award. In 1998, Wyner
received the Elise Stoeger Award from Lincoln Center's Chamber Music
Society for his lifetime contribution to chamber music. His Horntrio
was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1998, and in 1999 he was
elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Among Wyner's most important works is the liturgical piece Friday Evening Service for cantor and chorus, and it is this piece that initiated his relationship with Associated Music Publishers. The composer elaborates, "The circumstances of my initial contact with Schirmer/AMP [came about] in the spring of 1963, [when] the premiere of my new Friday Evening Service took place at the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York. The next day, I received a call from a person, then unknown to me, named Hans Heinsheimer [former G. Schirmer Director of Publications]. After identifying himself, he said that Samuel Barber had attended the premiere and urged Heinsheimer to be in touch with me to discuss a possible publishing relationship. Of course I was astonished!"
Wyner has been commissioned by the Ford Foundation, the Koussevitzky Foundation at the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, Michigan and Yale Universities, and many chamber music ensembles including Aeolian, DaCapo, Parnassus, Collage, No Dogs Allowed, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, and 20th Century Unlimited. Recordings of his music can be found on New World Records, Naxos, Bridge, Albany Records, Pro Arte, CRI, 4Tay Records, and Columbia Records.
Since 1968, Wyner has been a keyboard artist for the Bach Aria Group. In this capacity he has performed and conducted a substantial number of the Bach cantatas, concertos, and motets. He recently retired as the Walter W. Naumburg Professor of Composition at Brandeis University, a post he held since 1991. He also taught at Yale University as head of the Composition faculty, at SUNY Purchase as Dean of the Music Division, as a visiting professor at Cornell and Harvard Universities, and as a member of the chamber music faculty at the Tanglewood Music Center from 1975 to 1997. He has been composer-in-residence at the Sante Fe Chamber Music Festival (1982), the American Academy in Rome (1991), and the Rockefeller Center at Bellagio, Italy (1998).
His notable orchestral works include: Prologue and Narrative for Cello and Orchestra (1994), commissioned by the BBC Philharmonic for the Manchester International Cello Festival; Lyric Harmony for orchestra (1995), commissioned by Carnegie Hall for the American Composers Orchestra; and Epilogue for orchestra (1996), commissioned by the Yale School of Music. Notable works for smaller ensembles include: String Quartet (1985); Toward the Center for piano (1988); Sweet Consort for flute and piano (1988); 0 To Be a Dragon choruses for women's voices (1989); Trapunto Junction for horn, trumpet, trombone, and percussion (1991), commissioned by the Boston Symphony Chamber Players; Praise Ye the Lord for soprano and ensemble (1996), commissioned by Dawn Upshaw and the 92nd Street Y; Horntrio (1997), commissioned by Worldwide Concurrent Premieres Inc. for 40 ensembles; Madrigal for String Quartet (1999), commissioned by the Lydian String Quartet at Brandeis; The Second Madrigal: Voices of Women (1999), commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation at the Library of Congress; Tuscan Triptych: Echoes of Hannibal for string orchestra (2002); Commedia for clarinet and piano (2002), commissioned by Emanuel Ax and Richard Stoltzman; and Trio 2009 for clarinet, cello, and piano (2009), commissioned by the Chamber Music San Francisco.
His music is published by Associated Music Publishers, Inc.
— November 2011
This interview was recorded in Chicago on December 19,
Portions (along with recordings)
were used on WNIB two months later, and again in 1999. It was
also used on WNUR in 2009 and 2010, and on Contemporary Classical
Internet Radio in 2009. An audio copy was placed in the Archive of Contemporary Music at Northwestern University. This
made and posted on this
website late in 2011.
To see a ful list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago. You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.