Olly Wilson’s richly varied musical background included not only the traditional composition and academic disciplines, but also his professional experience as a jazz and orchestral musician, work in electronic media, and studies of African music in West Africa itself.
Born in 1937, the St. Louis, MO, native completed his undergraduate training at Washington University (St. Louis), continuing with his masters studies at University of Illinois (returning later to study electronic music in the Studio for Experimental Music), and received his Ph.D from the University of Iowa. His composition teachers included Robert Wykes, Robert Kelley, and Phillip Bezanson.
His work as a professional musician included playing jazz piano in local St. Louis groups, as well as playing doublebass for the St. Louis Philharmonic, the St. Louis Summer Chamber Players, and the Cedar Rapids Symphony. He has taught on the faculties of Florida A&M University and Oberlin Conservatory of Music, as well as his current position of professor of music at University of California at Berkeley, where he has taught since 1970.
Wilson’s works were performed by major American orchestras such as the Atlanta, Baltimore, Saint Louis, Detroit, and Dallas Symphonies, along with such international ensembles as the Moscow Philharmonic, the Netherlands Philharmonic, and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. He received commissions from the Boston, Chicago, and Houston Symphonies, as well as the New York Philharmonic and the American Composers Orchestra. He was awarded numerous honors including: the Dartmouth Arts Council Prize (the first international competition awarded for electronic music for his work Cetus); commissions from the NEA and Koussevitzky Foundation; an artist residency at the American Academy of Rome; several Guggenheim Fellowships; a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship; membership at the American Academy of Arts and Letters; and the Elise Stoeger Prize awarded by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
In addition to being a published author (Wilson wrote numerous articles on African and African-American music), he often conducted contemporary music concerts.
He died on March 12, 2018.
Olly Wilson’s music is published by Gunmar Music and G. Schirmer, Inc.