Frost's 2019 Distinguished Composer in Residence, Melinda Wagner

Frost's 2019 Distinguished Composer in Residence, Melinda Wagner

By UM News

Frost's 2019 Distinguished Composer in Residence, Melinda Wagner

By UM News
Wagner is serving a six-week residency at Frost, she will not only have her works performed, but she will also conduct rehearsals and give private lessons to all students in the Frost Composition Program.

Frost 2019 Distinguished Composer in Residence, Melinda Wagner, speaks in poetic musings when describing her contemporary classical music. Wagner gave a special presentation in the Marta and Austin Weeks Music Library for the Frost Composition forum on February 22, 2019.

Visceral, eloquent, and intuitive, the Pulitzer Prize winning composer says her writing is always guided by a narrative, using melody as the gateway. “All music moves through three tenses at once” she explains; “every present event of that piece, your memory of its past, and your anticipation of its future. It’s about building towards a moment, and moving through time.”

Recordings of Wagner’s works filled the room as students followed along with the scores. Frost undergraduate Ben Webster commented, “The detail of her music is astounding. It’s incredibly complicated but at the same time very direct and clear in intention.”

Wagner’s  works have been commissioned and performed by many of the great orchestras and soloists around the world. Championed early on by conductor Daniel Barenboim, her colorful Concerto for Flute, Strings and Percussion for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra earned Wagner the Pulitzer Prize in 1999. It is one of three commissions for the CSO, the most recent being Proceed, Moon performed under the baton of Susanna Mälkki in 2017.

Wagner’s three-movement Trombone Concerto, for New York Philharmonic principal trombonist Joseph Alessi, juxtaposes the unique personality of the brass section of an orchestra with the urban pulse of New York City, where Wagner makes her home and serves as faculty of the Composition Department at The Juilliard School of Music.

“Many young composers are skilled at building a moment, starting a piece out in a very dramatic way, without realizing that it creates a lot of energy,” said Wagner. “The other half of the piece gives it a soft place to land, slowing it down like footsteps moving into the distance.”

Graduate students Greg Watson and Dan Karcher describe working one-on-one with Wagner much like an apprenticeship. Said Watson, “Though her style of music is quite different than mine, we discussed the pacing of music, and she helped me think more temporally. She looked at my music and said, if this is what you’re going to do, here’s how to do it better.”

“Experiencing first hand her devotion to musical craft, and her dedication to helping younger composers develop a more rarified compositional technique, is a great opportunity for me as an artist,” added Karcher.

Wagner is serving a six-week residency at FROST, divided equally between the spring and fall semesters. During that time, she will not only have her works performed, but she will conduct rehearsals and give private lessons to all students in the Frost Composition Program. The Frost 2020 Distinguished Composer in Residence will be George Lewis. The Frost Department of Theory and Composition is chaired by esteemed professor and composer Charles Norman Mason (BM ’77).

On April 16, 2019, The Frost School of Music will present a selection of Wagner’s innovative works at UM’s Maurice Gusman Concert Hall, performed by Ensemble Ibis, under the direction of professor Shawn Crouch. New works by Frost composition faculty will also be performed. The concert begins at 7:30 pm and is free of charge.

Learn more about Melinda Wagner at https://www.melindawagnermusic.com.

For more on the Composition Program at the highly acclaimed Frost School of Music, visit https://composition.frost.miami.edu.