Wayne Peterson, Jazz Pianist Turned Composer, Wins Pulitzer With AM-Pulitzers, Bjt
NEW YORK (AP) _ Wayne Peterson, the Pulitzer Prize winner for music for his symphony, ″The Face of the Night, The Heart of the Dark,″ put himself through college by playing jazz piano.
That experience still influences the 64-year-old composer.
″A lot of the kind of rhythmic excitement I think is present in the fast movements has a lot to do with both Igor Stravinsky and jazz,″ he said about his award-winning symphony.
It was commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony, which performed the premiere last October, conducted by David Zinman.
Peterson is retired after teaching at San Francisco State University since 1960. He was reached by telephone at his office at Indiana University where he is ″momentarily filling in″ as a composition teacher.
Born Sept. 3, 1927, in Albert Lea, Minn., Peterson recalled about his early life:
″My father, a victim of the Depression, bounced around from one thing to another. He wasn’t musical. My mother’s side of the family was. I became very interested in jazz piano and was a professional jazz musician from the age of 15 on.
″I put myself through college by playing jazz, through three degrees at the University of Minnesota, where I majored in music and minored in philosophy.″
In 1953-54 he studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London on a Fulbright scholarship. While there, he decided that he had taken up classical piano too late to make a concert career.
″I could do more by writing music,″ he said. ″I think it was the right choice to have made.″
He returned to the University of Minnesota to work on his doctorate. Before he received it in 1960, he’d had a composition recorded.
″The most significant thing that happened to me then was I had a piece, ‘Free Variations,’ that won a state contest and Antal Dorati premiered it with the Minneapolis Symphony. The Koussevitzky Foundation and American Music Center selected it to be recorded.″
Dorati and the Minneapolis made the record in 1959.
Peterson is divorced and has four sons. Besides teaching, he played some jazz and mostly commercial music around San Francisco to support his family.
″For a period, I got away from composing, in terms of time and energy I had left over to write music,″ he said.
″The great bulk of my music is chamber music. Since 1986, after a long period of not writing for orchestra at all, my main effort has been in that direction. ...
″Elliot Carter’s music has been a major influence on me and Charles Wuorinen’s music since 1978 has been a very stimulating force for me as well.″
Peterson took the title ″The Face of the Night, The Heart of the Dark″ from a passage by author Thomas Wolfe.
″It’s an evocative phrase that I thought was appropriate for the piece,″ Peterson said.