Pulitzer Prize winning composer born in Albert Lea dies at age 93
Published 1:27 pm Sunday, April 25, 2021
SAN FRANCISCO — Composer, pianist and educator Wayne Peterson, who was born in Albert Lea and won a Pulitzer Prize for music that was hotly contested because judges had chosen another composer, has died. He was 93.
Peterson died on April 7 at his San Francisco home, his son Grant Peterson told the San Francisco Chronicle.
According to The Washington Post, Peterson began touring with a big band by his late teens and studied in England at the Royal Academy of Music, where he worked with composers Lennox Berkeley and Howard Ferguson.
Email newsletter signup
Peterson taught music at San Francisco State University. in 1992, he won the Pulitzer for his work, “The Face of the Night, the Heart of the Dark,” which was commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony.
The Pulitzer board, consisting mostly of newspaper editors and publishers, awarded Peterson the honor but in doing so it overruled the unanimous choice of the music jury, which had selected Ralph Shapey’s “Concerto Fantastique.”
The jurors — composers and musicians George Perle, Roger Reynolds and Harvey Sollberger — issued a public statement saying the Pulitzer board “was not professionally qualified” to reverse their decision, although they also praised Peterson’s work as a “masterful orchestral essay.”
“I’m terribly upset about being involved in something like this, especially since it was not of my making,” he told the Chronicle in 1992. “I’m honored to be a runner-up, for God’s sake!”
Peterson even once said that he, too, would have voted for Shapey’s piece if he’d been a juror.
The spat led to some changes in the Pulitzer jury process. It didn’t hurt Peterson’s career, which included more than 80 compositions and numerous awards and commissions.
“Wayne was a superb craftsman with his own distinctive voice,” San Francisco composer Richard Festinger, who taught alongside him at San Francisco State and chairs the board of the contemporary-music ensemble Earplay, told the Chronicle. “He was prolific, and the music is powerful and original.”
Peterson retired from San Francisco State in the 1990s. He also was a guest professor of composition at Stanford University from 1992 to 1994.