Christian Woehr, III


Christian Woehr, III

Christian Woehr was born in Dallas, Texas, in 1951 into a large and unwieldy family of musicians. Five days into life, he split for Pittsburgh, where his dad had a new gig playing horn with the Pittsburgh Symphony. At the age of 7 his cellist mother asked him if he wanted to play the viola. Eager to please, he said "Sure! What is it?", thus setting the pattern for a lifetime of clueless commitments. Within a year or two, already struck with the pathetic nature of the viola repertoire, he was attempting to write his own music. Possibly his first completed work, a Gavotte for solo viola, received actual monetary payments of 25 cents per copy from his teacher Albert Hirtz, a Pittsburgh Symphony musician who understood the motivational force of cash. The $1.50 earned from this project remained Christian's largest compositional fee for the next 20 years.

Surviving the excruciating self-taught compositional efforts of Christian's childhood, his family string ensemble (a full string sextet with additional horns) was quite happy to see him off to college. After the Eastman School of Music, where his principal teachers were Francis Tursi in viola and Warren Benson in composition, Christian came face to face with career/cash realities, and put away the pencil and paper for a while to learn the viola parts to Don Juan and the Mendellsohn Scherzo (for orchestra auditions). After a miserable year in the Columbus Symphony, he returned to Rochester, his marriage over and his bow arm still stinking.

Attacking the latter through the teaching skills of Heidi Castleman, he eventually landed the Principal Viola job in the Rochester Philharmonic. Forced to play slightly above his physical talent level, Woehr again learned that his true love lay in composing. He began writing works for viola and multiple violas, and more importantly, organizing concerts with the combined viola resources of the Eastman School and the Rochester Philharmonic. In 1984, ERVE (the Eastman Rochester Viola Ensemble) made its triumphant way to the World Viola Congress in Boston, playing all-Woehr. The crowd adulation (unrealistic though it may have been from an audience of several hundred violists) sealed Christian's compositional fate.

In 1986, during a downsizing period of the Rochester Philharmonic (no more chips and beer on runout buses, plus the abandonment of Carnegie Hall concerts) Woehr got a call from St. Louis. He went, and won the audition for Assistant Principal Viola of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, a job which has left him with somewhat more time and energy for composing (all part of his long-range plan). No doubt due to life-lessons learned, Woehr continues to hesitate to give up his orchestral day job for composing. But his opus grows in quantity, scope, and quality, with performances by orchestras, chamber music festivals, and colleagues who commission him for his uniquely fun style of writing. He isn't getting rich off composing, but the few bucks he gets from ASCAP every 3 months does keep up the faith.

Articles by Christian Woehr, III:

Jedi Orchestral Skills
February 5, 2019

Nepotism to Amigo-ism: Can a composer enter an orchestra’s door without holding a conductor’s hand?
June 15, 2019

Discussion Panels with Christian Woehr, III:

Composition Matters
06/19/06 - 06/23/06