Julian Wachner possess an uncanny talent in all his musical endeavours, which include composing, conducting and playing piano and organ. He is currently the director at the award-winning ensembles, Trinity Wall Street (choir and orchestra) and the Washington Chorus. Wachner has worked with a wide range of outstanding ensembles ranging from the San Francisco Opera to the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Hong Kong Philharmonic to the Handel and Haydn Society and the Bang on a Can All-Stars.
Wachner was born in 1969 in sunny Hollywood, California into a musical family. At the age of four, he was already studying cello and piano at the University of Southern California. He later became a boy chorister at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Buffalo, New York and studied composition and improvisation from ages 9 to 13 with Dr. Gerre Hancock at St. Thomas Choir School in New York City.
Wachner attended the Boston University College of Fine Arts, where his teachers included Lukas Foss, Theodore Antoniou, David Hoose and Marjorie Merryman. In 1990, while still a student, Wachner was appointed the University Organist and Music Director of Boston University’s Marsh Chapel. While there, he founded an annual festival of contemporary music, for which he commissioned and premiered hundreds of works. He also formed a period-instrument orchestra and choir, the Boston Bach Ensemble, with the help of Peter Watchorn in 1995. In fact, it was their 2001 recording of Bach’sWeihnachtsoratorium that set Watchorn’s label Musica Omnia on the map.
Wachner received his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in 1996. He also received a Fellowship degree from the American Guild of Organists and was awarded the S. Lewis Elmer Award for receiving one of the highest scores on the Guild’s associate exam.
In addition to his duties at the Marsh Chapel, Wachner served as Assistant Professor of Sacred Music at the Boston University School of Theology, where he taught liturgy, Bach studies, music theory, organ improvisation and conducting.
It was also during his studies that Wachner began his long association with Tanglewood, where he taught the Young Artists Vocal, Orchestral and Compositional Programs. He even served as director of the orchestral program for several years, from 1999 to 2002.
After completing his studies, Wachner became active in Quebec, serving as Associate Professor of Music and Principal Conductor of Opera McGill at McGill University’s Schulich School of Music. While there, he conducted nearly 50 operatic productions in addition to directing the McGill Symphony and Contemporary Music Ensemble. He also founded what has become McGill’s flagship chamber choir, the Schulich School Singers.
Wachner’s activities did not remain within the walls of the Schulich School of Music; he also improved upon the musical life in Montréal by founding the Bach-Academie de Montréal (now the Montreal Bach Festival) and serving as Director of Music of the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul, where he led many concert and liturgical performances, alike. Wachner also received some major commissions and had his music premiered during this period, including works such as hisTryptich for Organ and Orchestra, Psalm Cycle III and his opera Evangeline Revisited(2006), which he also conducted at the New City Opera company’s annual VOX festival of contemporary opera in 2010.
During these early years, Wachner also served as Director of the Back Bay Chorale, with which he released an album of Benjamin Britten’s works in 2001. He was also the Director of the Providence Singers in Providence, Rhode Island from 1996 to 2006. In addition, he returned briefly to New York to conduct the Grammy Award-winning Washington Chorus, a position he still holds, which released an album of Christmas Carols in 2010, featuring some of Wachner’s arrangements. With this choir, he also performed in the final concert of the Rolling Stones’ ‘50 and Counting’ tour in 2013.
In 2011, Wachner returned to New York for good to take on the position of Director of Music and Arts at Trinity Wall Street, where he is still active. His duties there include directing both the choir and baroque orchestra. He also founded the contemporary music ensemble NOVUS NY during his first season. During his second year as director, he led a recording of Handel’sIsrael in Egypt, which was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance in 2013.
Wachner is also in charge of Trinity’s weekly series Bach-at-One, during which J.S. Bach’s entire repertoire is explored, and Candle-by-Candlelight, a fully- improvised event based on an ancient monastic ritual. Furthermore, he oversees the series Concerts-at-One.
Wachner’s performances have been praised unanimously by critics worldwide, from simple statements such as ‘superbly performed’ to profound compliments such as that he ‘led with both fearsome energy and delicate grace…a model of what is musically and emotionally possible with this venerable score [Handel’s Messiah]’, both of which were printed by The New York Times. The Boston Globe wrote, regarding Wachner’s interpretation of Bach’sSt. Matthew Passion, ‘there was genius here and no mistaking it’. His performances of the works of Wagner and Verdi are just as well received, with comments from Anne Midgette ofThe Washington Post such as ‘exhilarating’ and ‘Julian Wachner knows how to draw maximum drama from a score...[he is] emphatic and theatrical and so at home in opera that he could bring out the requisite sense of drama’.
In addition to his work as a conductor, Wachner is also an award-winning keyboardist. His solo recital at the Spoleto Festival USA, which featured an extraordinary improvised finale, led to one critic’s (from thePost and Courier, South Carolina) conclusion that ‘this stupefying wizardry was the hit of the recital, and it had to be heard to be believed. TheWashington Post also praised his performance of Rachmaninov’s piano works from a concert in Kennedy Center, exclaiming, ‘Wachner dazzled with some bravura keyboard work, both in the rhapsodic accompaniments to the songs and…in the highly virtuosic transcription of the Dances’.
As a composer, Wachner has written more than 80 pieces. Not surprisingly, these have been remarkably well-received. While some of his pieces are ‘jazzy, energetic and ingenious’ (Boston Globe), others have been described as possessing ‘splendour, dignity, outstanding tone combinations, sophisticated chromatic exploration…a rich back drop, wavering between a glimmer and a tingle’ (La Scena Musicale). As such, the Washington Post described his output as a ‘compendium of surprises’. The ‘silken complexities of his harmonies’ (The New York Times) has also been praised. Perhaps the American Record Guide described it best, writing, ‘Wachner is both an unapologetic modernist and an open-minded eclectic—his music has something to say’.
In 2016/2017 Wachner will direct Opera America’s New Opera Showcase at New York’s annual Prototype Festival, featuring the world premiere of Du Yun and Royce Vavrek’’sAngel’s Bon. He will also conduct the American premiere of Tim Brady’s Symphony no 3, in addition to making appearances at Montreal’s Salle Bourgie, the Berkley Festival in California, the Metropolitan Museum and Lincoln Center with Trinity Choir.
His current commissions include Epistole for orchestra and chorus from Vision in Art andAn October Garden from the Washington Master Chorale, in addition to his second full-length opera from Beth Morrison Projects and Friends of Madame White Snake. He is also serving as composer-in-residence at the Rivers School.
Wachner’s performances and compositions have been recorded on a number of labels, including Chandos, Naxos, Atma Classique, Erato, Cantaloupe Music, Arsis, Dorian and Musica Omnia.
It will certainly be interesting to see what Julian Wachner, ‘the busiest composer in Boston’ (Richard Dyer of theBoston Globe) will do next.