Today’s Composer of the Day is Melinda Wagner.
I must admit, I hadn’t heard much about Melinda Wagner, which is why I decided to try to find out more. What I managed to dig up was intriguing, however, it isn’t all that substantial.
Born in Philadelphia, she studied with a couple of familiar faces, including George Crumb and Shulamit Ran. She has been performed quite a bit, won her share of awards, including the 1999 Pulitzer Prize, taught and lectured here and there, and then, well...I’m not so sure. At the bottom of her Theodore Presser biography, it says that she currently lives with her husband and children in New Jersey. There’s not much else on the inter-wide-web-surfing-place.
Although, last year Anne Midgette glowingly reviewed the premiere of her trombone concerto:
[...] Ms. Wagner’s piece practically leapt off the stage, so vital and fresh did it sound, compared with what had gone before it. And this concerto certainly belongs on a program of unusual instruments. It is thickly sown with interesting sounds — not sound effects, but a range of timbres and textures, partly supplied by a large and varied battery of four percussionists, woven into the fabric of the music. To balance the mellow trombone — played with a beautiful, burnished richness by Joseph Alessi, for whom the piece was written — the composer pitched her work dark: lots of viola, cello, bass and other trombones anchored the music.
Ms. Wagner writes strikingly well for orchestra; this piece used the whole spectrum of colors available to her without ever becoming dense or cloying. The thickest textures came in the second movement, “Elemental Things,” and even here, where movement slowed to the measured pace of a large beast waking up, long-held notes were brought into focus by details: the whisper of a brushed cymbal, the punctuation of piano.
This smart, complex score retained an organic quality throughout, a kind of clear emotion running through its rich variety; [...]
Her Concerto for Flute, Strings and Percussion is what put her name on the map, winning the 1999 Pulitzer Prize. Here’s a recording at Art of the States (you’ll need realPlayer to listen). The same recording was given quite a friendly review by Detritus favorite David Hurwitz.
The sheer sound of this piece is utterly beguiling. Cast in the traditional three movements, Wagner's idiom in this concerto is fundamentally atonal, though with motives and tunes that are clearly recognizable and often quite beautiful. The extraordinary slow movement reveals the composer's gift for sustaining interest over a lengthy span of intensely quiet music [...]
That’s quite a compliment!
You should listen to her music!