Minnesota Orchestra plays Wittgraf's music

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 11/5/96.

Paynesville native Mike Wittgraf has been composing music since the 1970s. A student at Northwestern University, Chicago, his composition Event was recently selected a finalist in the Perfect Pitch: New Music Reading Session by the Minnesota Orchestra and the American Composers Forum.

When the Minnesota Orchestra sat down to play, it was the first time I heard my music played by a full orchestra, he said. Now he feels there are some areas which need fixing, some instruments couldnt be heard. Rewrites are an ongoing process. A composer can rework a piece many times until it becomes unproductive and you need to call it quits. Nobody can write a perfect piece of music, Wittgraf said. He added it took him 10 months to complete Event.

The jury is still out deciding which composition the orchestra will include in the next concert series. The jury is comprised of Eiji Oue, Minnesota Orchestra music director; Asadour Santourian, director of artistic planning; Linda Hoeschler and her staff from the American Composers Forum; and several leading Twin Cities composers who had come to offer their opinions.

When asked about the Perfect Pitch concerts, Wittgraf said an invitation went out to composers asking them to submit a piece for orchestra. Twelve composers submitted scores. I feel fortunate to have my piece among the finalists. It was a great experience to sit in the audience and hear my music played by one of the top orchestras in the world. Plus David Dzubay, consulting composer for Perfect Pitch, talked one-on-one with the composers, telling us how to better prepare parts of our music, talking in-depth with each of us.

Akira Mori, acting assistant conductor for the Minnesota Orchestra was flown in from Japan. He did an incredible job. He spent considerable time learning each piece the orchestra was to play. The musicians did a terrific job, they were tremendous, Wittgraf stressed.

He dedicated his composition Event, after the birth of his oldest daughter, Solveig Brigitte Bloomquist. Wittgraf said it is the only time he reached complete self-unawareness for an extended period of time. The piece is written in two movements. The first movement, Experience, was performed by the orchestra. It is a reflection of the self-conscious state, when moments are observed from the outside and one can sense the passage of time, Wittgraf explained about his composition. During these moments, several different thoughts may occupy the mind simultaneously. Problems may be solved, situations may be considered, or anxiety may take over.

Mom and Dad were my only music teachers until I entered college. Im basically self-taught on many instruments, Wittgraf said. Hearing my music played by the Minnesota Orchestra was a dream come true, he added. Wittgraf feels his ability to play several different instruments helped him in putting together scores for different parts of the orchestra knowing what sounds good together.

He does most of his composing away from the piano. He only uses the piano to check on various notes. He also plays the organ and a lot of wind instruments.

The son of Jon and Etta Wittgraf, Richmond, he graduated from Paynesville High School in 1981. He attended Carleton College from 1981 to 1985 earning a degree in mathematics. While at Carleton, he studied music composition. He re-entered academic life in 1990 at the University of Minnesota. In 1994, he entered Northwestern University and will complete his studies there in December. He is married to Pieper Fleck, daughter of Larry and Janet Fleck, Regal.

Wittgraf is studying contemporary art music which stresses originality not commercial products (jingles and television or movie music scores). But I can do them, he added. Ive composed 100s of pieces of music from pop tunes to jazz and classical. Id say I have composed only 25 which I consider worthwhile. A persons tastes change. Id consider myself less conservative than five years ago, Wittgraf said. An artist has to show progress. They dont want to copy other peoples works...they seek high art, perfection and originality.

Wittgraf said his short-term goals include teaching music composition, music theory or electronic music. His long-term goals are to be able to support his family from his compositions.

He said if his composition is selected, it would mean a huge boost to his career. The best part of the whole thing is the learning experience. I met a whole new group of people and listened to their music played by the orchestra. There is no substitute for actually hearing your music played by a high quality group of musicians, Wittgraf stressed.

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