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Campus Beat

Happy Birthday, Professor Peterson

Portrait of Wayne Peterson

In an interview almost 20 years ago, upon his win of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Wayne Peterson said that composing for a symphony orchestra "is like going to a huge buffet of everything you like. Limiting your choices is the biggest problem."


The commissions and awards that followed, including the 1992 Pulitzer Prize in Music, attest to Peterson's skill at the musical buffet. In September, former students, colleagues and music fans enjoyed a hearty helping at a musical celebration of the emeritus professor's 80th birthday. The day began with Peterson critiquing works by graduate composition students and discussing his career. Then came the music.


Earplay, an ensemble conducted by Mary Chun (B.A., '74; M.A., '78) and featuring flutist Tod Brody (attended '73-'75) performed Peterson's original works ("flawlessly," said Jeff Dunn of San Francisco Classical Voice), as did the Alexander String Quartet, SF State's quartet-in-residence. When the ASQ played a movement from Peterson's "Popsweet (String Quartet No. 3)", the composer explained that his work is heavily influenced not only by classical but also by jazz, blues, bebop and even country-western music.


"I used to look down on country-western, but began to appreciate it after listening to some of the better players. Those boys can play, but their tunes have awfully droll titles like ‘Hell Among the Heifers.'"


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