Melinda Wagner

  • Hailed as an “…eloquent, poetic voice in contemporary music..,” in whose works “…spectacular sounds abound…” [American Record Guide], Melinda Wagner achieved widespread attention when her colorful Concerto for Flute, Strings and Percussion was awarded the 1999 Pulitzer Prize in Music. Since then, major compositions have included Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra, for Joseph Alessi and the New York Philharmonic, and a piano concerto, Extremity of Sky, commissioned by the Chicago Symphony for Emanuel Ax, who has also performed it with the National Symphony Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony, the Staatskapelle Berlin, and the Kansas City Symphony. In all, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has commissioned three works by Wagner: Falling Angels, Extremity of Sky, and a forthcoming work. Other recent commissions include Little Moonhead, for the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Scamp, for the United States Marine Band, and Pan Journal, for Elizabeth Hainen and the Juilliard String Quartet. Ms. Wagner’s chamber works have been performed by many leading ensembles including the American Brass Quintet, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, the New York New Music Ensemble, and the Empyrean Ensemble. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, three ASCAP Young Composer Awards, an honorary degree from Hamilton College, and a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Pennsylvania. Project support has come from the Barlow Endowment, the Fromm and Koussevitzky Foundations, and the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust.

    A passionate and inspiring teacher, Melinda Wagner has held faculty positions at Brandeis University, Smith College and Syracuse University. She has presented master classes at many institutions including Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Juilliard, and Eastman, and recently served as Master Artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. Ms. Wagner has been a mentor composer at the Wellesley Composers Conference (2010, 2012, 2013) and the American Composers Orchestra Underwood Readings. Other residencies include the Yellow Barn, Monadnock, and Vail Valley Music Festivals, and in 2015, the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts Festival (UC Davis).

    “Imagine Elliott Carter and Olivier Messiaen teaming up to write a concerto, add a certain lithe sense of mystery that is Wagner’s own and you’ll have some idea of ‘Extremity of Sky.’” When Tim Page wrote those words in the Washington Post about Wagner’s Piano Concerto, he also made mention of the “prismatic color and romantic fantasy.” Time and time again, commentators on Wagner’s music use a similarly rich, highly descriptive, emotive vocabulary.

    In the composer’s own words:

    Music offers composers an immeasurably rich and generous sonic landscape in which to explore the “life story” of each musical idea – its dramas, intrigues, joys and sorrows – a life. I strive to find various and persuasive ways of moving through the resulting temporal narrative, and to traverse a wide spectrum of expression and color on the way. Ultimately, I want listeners to know me; I want them to hear that while I enjoy the cerebral exercise, I am led principally by my ear, and by my heart.

  • Cover Title (Subtitle) Duration Instrumentation
    114-41078 Arabesque
    For Solo Guitar
    3:30 Guitar Unaccompanied
    110-41799 Noggin
    Four Pieces for Piano
    12:00 Piano Unaccompanied
    110-41783 Tintinnabulum
    For Piano
    2:00 Piano Unaccompanied
    Chamber Ensemble
    114-41225 Brass Quintet No. 1
    15:00 Brass Quintet
    16995 Concertino
    for Harpsichord and String Quintet
    9:09 2Vln. Vla. Vcl. Cb. Hscd.
    114-41089 Concerto for Flute, Strings, and Percussion
    24:00 Flute with Piano
    16943 Four Settings
    for Soprano and Ensemble
    20:00 Solo Sop.; Fl. Cl. Pno. Vln. Vla. Vcl. Cb.
    114-41640 My Tioga
    For String Quartet
    15:00 String Quartet
    114-41405 Pan Journal
    12:12 Harp, String Quartet
    114-41236 Romanze With Faux Variations
    Piano Trio No. 2
    13:00 Piano Trio
    114-41499 Scritch
    13:00 Oboe, String Quartet
    114-40683 Sextet
    For Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Viola, Cello, and Piano
    13:00 Chamber Ensemble
    414-41202 Seven Muses
    A Contemporary Anthology for Flute and Piano
    Flute with Piano
    114-41908 Unsung Chordata
    14:00 Flute (doubling Piccolo), Clarinet in Bb (doubling Bass Clarinet), Violin, Cello, Percussion, Piano
    10059 Wick
    for Chamber Ensemble
    15:50 Fl.(dbl. Picc.) Cl.(dbl.B.Cl.) Vn. Vc. Perc. Pno.
    114-40895 Wing and Prayer
    For Clarinet, Violoncello, Percussion, and Piano
    12:00 Chamber Ensemble
    312-41695 Ancient Music
    S.A.T.B A Cappella
    4:00 SATB
    312-41842 From A Book Of Early Prayers
    For S.A.T.B. Chorus, A Cappella
    7:00 SATB
    11520 57/7 Dash
    Overture for Percussion, Timpani and Orchestra
    7:00 3(dbl. Picc.) 3(E.H.) 3(B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) – 4 3 3(B.Tbn.) 1; Timp. 3Perc. Pno. Hp. Str.
    15788 Concerto for Flute, Strings, and Percussion
    in Three Movements
    24:00 Solo Fl.; Timp. 3Perc. Pno.(Cel.) Hp. Str. (
    17142 Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra
    24:00 Solo Tbn.; 3(3dbl. Picc.) 3(3dbl.E.H.) 3(B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) – 4 3 3 1; Timp. 4Perc. Pno.(dbl.Cel.) Hp. Str.
    16789 Extremity of Sky
    Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
    28:00 Solo Pno.; 3(dbl. Picc.) 3(E.H.) 3(B.Cl.) 2 – 4 3 3(B.Tbn.) 1; Timp. 5Perc. Cel. Hp. Str.
    15790 Falling Angels
    Poem for Orchestra
    14:00 3(Picc.) 3(E.H.) 3(B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) – 4 3 3 1; Timp. Perc. Pno. Cel. Hp. Str.
    17427 Little Moonhead
    Three Tributaries inspired by Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 by J.S. Bach
    13:16 Solo Vln; 2 Fl. Hps. Str.
    Wind Ensemble
    16980 57/7 Dash
    Overture for Percussion, Timpani and Concert Band (Transcription for Wind Ensemble)
    17295 Scamp
    for Wind Ensemble
    9:00 4(Picc.) 3(E.H.) 10(E-Flat Cl., E-Flat Al.Cl., B.Cl., Cb.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.), Sop.Sax., A.Sax., Ten.Sax.,Bar.Sax. – 4 4 3(B.Tbn.) 1, 2Euph. Cb. Timp. 5Perc.

    It is a very powerful and descriptive work. There are also moments of exceptional beauty and wonderful atmosphere. Please extend my congratulations to Ms. Wagner for her wonderful composition and contribution to the flute literature.
    –Jeanne Baxtresser,

    The composer works within a palette of highly charged sonorities and glinting instrumental colors that compel your attention as much for their own sake as their unpredictable evolution. You are never quite sure where her music is going to take you, which is a large part of its bracing appeal… If I were a flutist, I would rejoice in discovering this attractive, beautifully made addition to the slim repertory of late-century American flute concertos.
    –John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune

    Her concerto suggests what the painter Henri Rousseau might have created had he written music — the bright, deep colors; the sense of fantasy that is both explicit and somewhat mysterious… There is a rich, seductive lushness in the sheer sound of Wagner’s concerto… At the same time, the work is charged with a coiled tension that keeps a listener’s mind alert; we are always interested in what is coming next.
    –Tim Page , Washington Post

    Wagner clearly thought carefully about problems of balance and blend, and in choosing an orchestra of strings and percussion, with a profusion of keyboards, mallets, and bells, she has created a magical framework in which to highlight the solo instrument. The sheer sound of this piece is utterly beguiling.

    …gives the flute plenty or room to maneuver, but it also succeeds as a display piece for the orchestra (especially the percussion) which is called upon to produce a galaxy of shimmering sounds…
    –Classical Net

    …an inventive, three movement work that amounts to one of the great 20th century concertos… The outer two movements brim with vivacity…softened by the sheer beauty of the dreamy slow movement…
    –Heuwell Tircuit, San Francisco Classical Voice

    …superbly played and caught in excellent sound.
    –Guy Rickards, Tempo

    …the work, precise but never precious, does share something of the Mahlerian ethos – in its wide contrasts, in its unapologetically bold gestures and its willingness to push to the limits… The music can be ferociously complex in its textures, its rhythms, and its harmonies – but even at its most intricate, it never sounds abstract or cerebral, keeping you in its emotional grip from first note to last. …gorgeously orchestrated … lyrical genious.
    –Peter J. Rabinowitz, Fanfare

    …shows she can write a blockbuster. …Spectacular sounds abound, and Alessi’s cadenza is fantasic.
    –Barry Kilpatrick, American Record Guide

    In her music she paints a beautiful, colorful, and highly varied orchestral palette, at times backing the soloist and at other times opposing him. … With this excellent and challenging work, Melinda Wagner has given us a wonderful piece sure to become essential repertoire for the trombone soloist: a first-rate addition to any trombonist’s CD library.
    –Philip Brink, International Trombone Association Journal

    Wagner creates a marvelous soundscape set in motion by a singular, repeated pitch that will play many roles before journey’s end.
    –S. James Wegg,

    …a fine trombone concerto…vital and fresh… It is thickly sown with interesting sounds — not sound effects, but a range of timbres and textures…woven into the fabric of 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… This smart, complex score retained an organic quality throughout, a kind of clear emotion running through its rich variety…
    –Anne Midgette, New York Times

    [The trombone] is an instrument of many possibilities, and Ms. Wagner explores them. [Her] music is not run-of-the-mill: it is interesting and attention-keeping. And she does an especially fine job of knitting the solo instrument and the orchestra together. I should say, too, that the first movement contains a wonderful cadenza, which has to be a kick to play.
    –Jay Nordlinger, New York Sun

    A substantial and well-crafted piece… Ms. Wagner enables the trombone to shine…her works provde sufficient color and thematic unity to draw listeners in.
    –Barbara Jepson, Wall Street Journal

    The concerto seethes and throbs, with the composer exulting in the power available in a large ensemble … powerful orchestral writing with big-boned climaxes…
    –Bruce Hodges, musicweb-international

    I found the piece absorbing and exhilarating when I first heard it in 2003 and I am glad to report the music still packs a considerable wallop.
    –John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune

    With his keen intelligence, stunning virtuosity and ear for intricate nuance, [Emanuel Ax] was just the man to explore every corner of Wagner’s delicately haunted emotional landscape… Anyone who commissions a new work hopes it will have staying power beyond a first performance… it is a pleasure that Wagner’s beautifully crafted “Extremity of Sky” is such a memorable work. … There is an intriguing wariness to Wagner’s colorful score, a sense of things not being entirely what they seem… As the music shifted about us, it seemed to float within tantalizing reach, only to melt away. Encased in glittering percussion, the final, crashing piano chord hit the ear with the violence and disturbing delicacy of shattering glass. ‘Highly recommended’
    –Wynne Delacoma, Chicago Sun-Times

    It is an absorbing, exhilarating piece, packed with difficulties yet wondrously clear to the ear and mind… angular melodies and motor-rhythms that fold seamlessly into luminously transparent textures… punchy feints of figuration… a hauntingly beautiful slow movement… The finale recollects earlier materials, now wittily transformed… The concerto all but explodes with bold, confident gestures and richly expressive piano writing ranging from rhapsodic to percussive. Wagner makes canny use of the seismic energy and vast coloristic palette of the 21st Century orchestra… This concert is worth catching for “Extremity of Sky” all by itself.
    –John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune

    Far and away the best music of the night came with Melinda Wagner’s “Extremity of Sky,” a concerto for piano and orchestra that melds high modernism with prismatic color and romantic fancy… Imagine Elliott Carter and Olivier Messiaen teaming up to write a concerto, add a certain lithe sense of mystery that is Wagner’s own and you’ll have some idea of “Extremity of Sky.”
    –Tim Page , Washington Post

    … a ferocious, kaleidoscopic, confounding, richly hued concerto scored for a dazzling 21st-century orchestra and featuring a bear of a piano part – the latter negotiated with consummate skill by Emanuel Ax.
    –Jayson Greene, American Symphony Orchestra League

    …wonderfully legible to anyone sensitive to the ebb and flow of traditional music…[the] second movement…made time stand still.
    –Peter Dobrin,

    …from it’s shimmering strings and gentle cello solo to its sound clusters, in which orchestral colors seem to be coming together and then breaking apart… This writer, who heard the first performance, enjoyed it even more this time.
    –Joseph Cunniff, Northwest Leader

    The 15-minute work contained outbursts of heaven-storming clamor, and the crash and boom of the final bars brought to mind hapless angels hurtling earthward. But massed violins repeated spun out thick strands of mellow, sweetly focused music. They anchored us to a reassuring heaven, providing an unbroken link that would guide us through the music.
    –Wynne Delacoma, Chicago Sun-Times

    for Soprano and Ensemble
    Wagner deftly integrated the human voice with a chamber orchestra in “Four Settings”. …the voice was less a complement to the music and more an equal and deeply organic part of it. The music had an ethereal air to it and an effortless flow.
    –Edward Ortiz, Sacramento Bee Final

    …she gets a tremendous range of color from this small ensemble … miraculous textural interplay…
    –Peter J. Rabinowitz, Fanfare

    …an impressionist palette of seductive moods and colors… Wagner is an eloquent, poetic voice in contemporary music.
    –Jack Sullivan, American Record Guide

    …expertly constructed with vivid orchestration, and virtuoso solo writing…
    –Victor Carr, Jr, Classics

    The work shimmered with a liquid translucence and a mysterious, nocturnal beauty. A celesta added an ethereal charm.
    –Steve Siegel, The Morning

    Inspired by the meaning of the German word “Bach”, Wagner’s “Little Moonhead: Three Tributaries” emphasized the free-flowing of a stream, reproducing the three tributaries in the traditional fast-slow-fast pattern. The middle movement, “Moon Ache”, had a particularly beautiful, ethereal feel to it while the last one, “Fiddlehead”, evoked the edible frond of an unfurled fern plant, looking just like the scroll of a violin, with plenty of whimsical flair.

    …a tour de force … bracingly lucid…
    –Alex Ross, The New Yorker

    …a delectable example of how a composer dives deeper into a previously sounded musical idea.
    –Edward Ortiz, Sacramento Bee Final

    It progresses in episodes and varies tempo, meter and texture, but the ideas are recognizably tossed about … [a work] by a top professional who knows how to keep the ears and brains of her listeners engaged.
    –Vance R. Koven, Boston Music Intelligencer

    Fantasy for Orchestra
    Proceed Moon is a strong, audacious and compelling work. … Wagner’s colors and effects came through boldly with impressive clarity and transparency even in the most uninhibited sections.
    –Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical Review

    There is childlike wonder in [“Proceed, Moon”], the vigorous gestures of an imagination without pretense…bumps of surprise, eruptions of extravagance, layers of delicacy, even what one might call celestial crickets. Wagner’s writing is confident…
    –Nancy Malitz, Chicago on the Aisle

    Alternatingly energetic and wistful, [“Scritch”] was playful and engaging.
    –Gayle Williams, Herald Tribune

    …an excellent, well-conceived work. The instruments are all show off to good effect, and the composer has a nice sense of line.
    –American Record Guide

    Melinda Wagner’s “Wick” has sparkling upward and downward rushes, though its best music was in its slow middle section with beautifully judged (and beautifully played) combinations of timbres.
    –Paul Griffiths, New York Times

    …a marvel of invention.
    –Peter J. Rabinowitz, Fanfare

    …vigorous, toccata-like outer spans framing a meditative and lyrical central episode. …It is a superb piece.
    –Guy Rickards, Tempo

    …pleasantly dissonant… Repetition makes it easy for the ear to make sense of the rough-hewn melodies; atmosphere accounts for a lot of the charm.
    –Peter Dobrin, Philadelphia Inquirer

    The title of [Wagner’s] work, “Wing and Prayer,” is unassuming, but the music is anything but. The ensemble is employed with great economy and sound imagination… I look forward to hearing it in the future.
    –David Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer

    attractive and intriguing… an abstract but highly charged conversation among instruments.
    –Daniel Cariaga, Los Angeles Times

    … delicately exuberant, finely structured exploration of sound textures…
    –Joseph McLellan , Washington Post

    captivating… organic, bracing…
    –Anthony Tommasini, New York Times

  • Music of Melinda Wagner MUSIC OF MELINDA WAGNER
    Bridge Records (9345); August 9, 2011
    Performer(s): Joseph Alessi, trombone; New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Lorin Maazel, conductor; Christine Brandes, soprano; Laura Gilbert, flute; Alan Kay, clarinet; Curtis Macomber, violin; Richard O’Neill, viola…
    Work(s): Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra
    Four Settings
    At the Still Point AT THE STILL POINT
    Albany Records (TROY838); May 1, 2006
    Performer(s): Hirono Oka, violin, Ohad Bar-David, cello, Susan Nowicki, piano
    Work(s): Romanze with Faux Variations
    New Music with Guitar, Volume Six NEW MUSIC WITH GUITAR, VOLUME SIX
    Bridge Records (9144); March 1, 2004
    Performer(s): David Starobin, Guitar
    Work(s): Arabesque
    American Visions AMERICAN VISIONS
    Summit Records (DCD365); August 5, 2003
    Performer(s): American Brass Quintet
    Work(s): Brass Quintet No. 1
    Concertos by Poul Ruders, Melinda Wagner CONCERTOS BY POUL RUDERS, MELINDA WAGNER
    Bridge Records (9098); June 27, 2000
    Performer(s): Paul Lustig Dunkel, flute, Westchester Philharmonic, Mark Mandarano, conductor
    Work(s): Concerto for Flute, Strings, and Percussion
    New American Works NEW AMERICAN WORKS
    Opus One Recordings (No. 168); December 15, 1995
    Performer(s): Society for New Music
    Work(s): Sextet

  • 2003: Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Pennsylvania
    2001: Honorary degree from Hamilton College
    2000: Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters
    1999: Pulitzer Prize in Music for Concerto for Flute, Strings, and Percussion
    1991: MacDowell Colony Resident Fellowship
    1988: Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship
    1988: MacDowell Colony Resident Fellowship
    1986: MacDowell Colony Resident Fellowship
    1986: Yaddo Resident Fellowship
    1984, 1985, 1987: ASCAP Young Composer Awards

  • 57/7 Dash
    Overture for Percussion, Timpani and Concert Band
    57/7 Dash
    Overture for Percussion, Timpani and Orchestra
    for Harpsichord and String Quintet
    Concerto for Flute, Strings and Percussion
    Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra
    Extremity of Sky
    Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
    Falling Angels
    Poem for Orchestra
    Four Settings
    for Soprano and Ensemble
    Little Moonhead
    for Violin and Chamber Orchestra
    Pan Journal
    Quintet for Harp and Strings
    Proceed, Moon
    Fantasy for Orchestra
    for Wind Ensemble
    for Chamber Ensemble