"As a composer with a combined Indigenous American, Greek, Balkan and Jewish identity, I have always found myself living and working in the no-man’s land between pure post-Impressionism and post-Expressionism, combined with the modes and rhythms of my various ethnic ancestries—composing music that has been thought of as "too simple" from one camp and "too complex" from the other. As I have always considered my compositional process and philosophy to be aligned with the assimilators of previous eras, (Bach, Stravinsky and Foss come to mind)—I have found equal inspiration from strict form or unbridled chaos; tonality, modality or post-tonality; and lyricism, pointillism or minimalism— I find it crucial to have as sweeping a palette of creative possibilities at my disposal as possible, believing that this desire is no different from any composer of the past."
Multi-Grammy-nominated conductor, composer, and keyboardist Julian Wachner –recently named one of Musical America’s Top 30 Professionals of the Year – has enjoyed an extensive outburst of compositional creativity including “Here’s the Thing”, a choral-orchestral response to Black Lives Matter and the Covid pandemic in collaboration with award-winning poet Samiya Bashir for the 60th Anniversary of The Washington Chorus; the critically acclaimed New York premiere of “REV 23” at the 2020 Prototype Festival; “The Vision of the Archangels” for cornetist Bruce Dickey; “We Two Alone” for chorus and baroque orchestra, commissioned by The Providence Singers; “Lord, Thou hast been our refuge” for choir, organ and solo trumpet commissioned by The Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys; “My Cathedral” for choir and organ commissioned by the American Guild of Organists for the 2020 National Convention in Atlanta, Georgia; “Gaudé: An LB Anniversary for Large Orchestra”,commissioned by the Colorado Music Festival as the winning composer of their annual “Click” competition; “TS Variations”, commissioned by the Royal College of Canadian Organists; “Psalm 90”, composed for The Tallis Scholars, Norwegian Soloists Choir, Netherlands Chamber Choir, and The Choir of Trinity Wall Street for Lincoln Center’s White Lights Festival; “Regina Coeli à 8” for the Ora Singer’s “ORA100” recording project with Harmonia Mundi; and “Epistle Mass”, written in collaboration with librettist Royce Vavrek for Trinity Wall Street’s Mass Reimaginings project. Wachner’s collection of colorful arrangements of favorite Christmas carols “The Snow Lay on the Ground” has been performed all over the world including a recent run with the Chicago Symphony. Upcoming projects include Wachner’s fourth opera, also in collaboration with Royce Vavrek, “Broadview Christ” commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects for the Prototype Festival, a new children’s opera focussing on cyber-bullying with librettist Samiya Bashir, and a new musical, “Vincent” written in collaboration with Tom Wade and Dana Davies focussing on income inequality.
Wachner’s compositions have been variously described as “jazzy, energetic, and ingenious,” (Boston Globe), having “splendor, dignity, outstanding tone combinations, sophisticated chromatic exploration…a rich backdrop, wavering between a glimmer and a tingle...,” (La Scena Musicale) being “a compendium of surprises,” (Washington Post) and as “bold and atmospheric,” while having “an imaginative flair for allusive text setting,” and noted for “the silken complexities of his harmonies” (New York Times). The American Record Guide recognized that, “Wachner is both an unapologetic modernist and an open-minded eclectic – his music has something to say.” Most recently, Early Music America noted that ““The Vision of the Archangels” soars and entwines, builds and diminishes, with absolutely gut-wrenching beauty.”
Wachner also enjoys a wide-ranging track record as a guest conductor. Orchestral engagements have included performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra; Kansas City, Montreal, Pacific, Calgary, and Pittsburgh Symphonies; New York Philharmonic; Seraphic Fire; National Arts Centre Orchestra; Philharmonia Baroque; Hong Kong Philharmonic; Bang on a Can All-Stars; and Apollo’s Fire. As an opera conductor, he has lead the San Francisco Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Hawaii Opera Theater, Juilliard Opera Theater, and New York City Opera, as well as conducted shows for Carnegie Hall Presents, National Sawdust, and the Lincoln Center Festival. Wachner served for nine seasons as the music director of the Grammy Award-winning Washington Chorus, with whom he won ASCAP’s Alice Parker award for adventurous programming and Chorus America’s Margaret Hilles award for Choral Excellence. In March 2018, Wachner was appointed artistic director of Michigan’s Grand Rapids Bach Festival.
Since his professional debut as Music Director of Boston University’s Marsh Chapel in 1990, Wachner was decades ahead of the current long-overdue focus on diversity and inclusion in the classical music world; indeed he was a pioneer in consistently commissioning, performing, and recording both women and BIPOC artists including “Flower World” by Marti Epstein (1992), “7 Choral Settings” by Laura Elise Schwendinger (1994), “Cricket, Spider, Bee” by Elena Ruehr (1992), “Alleluia” by Augusta Read Thomas (1991), “Psalm 90” by Marjorie Merryman (1995) and “The Magdalene Passion” by Elaine Bearer (1998).
This life-long dedication to diversity yielded three Pulitzer-prize winning works (Julia Wolfe’s “Anthracite Fields”, Ellen Reid’s “Prism”, Du Yun’s “Angel’s Bone”) and multiple other projects, festivals and recordings (Jessie Montgomery’s “Strum”, Luna Pearl Woolf’s “Fire and Blood”, Elena Ruehr’s “Averno”, Trevor Weston’s “Choral Works”, Paola Prestini’s “Oceanic Verses” and “Hubble Cantata”) – several of these releases have been nominated for Grammy awards in a variety of categories.
As Director of Music at New York’s historic Trinity Church Wall Street for over a decade, Wachner quickly created a world-renowned performing arts center with an annual season of hundreds of events. He created and curated NYC’s beloved Bach at One series, the annual 12th night festival, Pipes at One, and the Time’s Arrow Festival. He founded and conducted NOVUS NY, the city’s leading supporter of contemporary music, fostered the careers of numerous singers, instrumentalists, conductors and composers; and was primarily responsible, in collaboration with Rector William Lupfer, in finally commissioning new pipe organs for Trinity Church, St. Paul’s Chapel and the Chapel of All Saints - activating the leading pipe organ builders of the United States - following decades of digital replacements after the devastating events of 9/11. He also fostered and maintained creative collaborations with all of the city’s leading arts organizations.
Also an award-winning organist and improvisateur, Wachner’s solo recital at the Spoleto Festival USA featured an improvised finale that inspired one reviewer to conclude, “this stupefying wizardry was the hit of the recital, and it had to be heard to be believed,” (Post and Courier, South Carolina). As a concert pianist, in a Kennedy Center Rachmaninoff performance, the Washington Post noted, “Wachner dazzled with some bravura keyboard work, both in the rhapsodic accompaniments to the songs and…in the highly virtuosic transcription of the Dances."
Julian began his career at age 7 when he joined the Choir of Men and Boys at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Buffalo, NY and continued in this field as a lead boy chorister at the St. Thomas Choir School in New York City where he studied composition and improvisation with Dr. Gerre Hancock. He remains connected to this venerable institution through the support of Dr. Jeremy Filsell, who has recently commissioned and performed several of Julian’s compositions.
Further studies took Wachner to The Packer Collegiate Institute for high school where he won graduation awards in Mathematics and Music. He earned both his B.Mus. and DMA at Boston University where his primary teachers included Marjorie Merryman, David Hoose, Ann Howard Jones, and Lukas Foss.
He has held faculty positions at Boston University, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, McGill University, and The General Seminary of the Episcopal Church. He has also served as the music director for The Back Bay Chorale, The Providence Singers, The Boston Bach Ensemble, The Church of St. Andrew and Paul, The Montreal Bach Festival, The Washington Chorus and the Holiday Chorus of the Boston Pops.
He currently resides in Indianapolis with his wife and two beautiful young children. He continues to seek joy through his care for his kids, volunteering at the local food pantry and continuing to compose and study.