When asked recently who he lists as his “Top 3 composers right now,” Spoleto’s Director of Chamber Music Geoff Nuttall replied, “Haydn, Handel, and Wiancko—in that order.” That third name might be unfamiliar to most, but for those attending the 2019 Bank of America Chamber Music series at Dock Street Theatre, “Wiancko” will be at the tip of everyone’s tongue.
So, who is this guy? For starters, he’s this season’s composer in residence—meaning his brand-new work will premiere in Charleston, written specifically for Spoleto’s chamber music artists. Nuttall commissioned him to write an oboe quintet for James Austin Smith and the St. Lawrence String Quartet. It’ll premiere on Program III. Wiancko is also a talented cellist, and he’ll play two of his other works—Closed Universe and When The Night—on Programs I and V, respectively.
Originally from San Clemente, California, and now based in Brooklyn, New York, Wiacnko has toured extensively with Chick Corea, Max Richter, and Jóhann Jóhannsson. Currently, he writes for and performs as a member of Ayane & Paul and the Bird’s Eye Trio, and tours regularly with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble. His three-part piece LIFT, written for the Aizuri Quartet, was featured on the group’s album Blueprinting, nominated for a 2019 Grammy Award. In review of the album, NPR music critic Tom Huizenga seems to echo Nuttall’s Haydn-Wiacnko connection, writing: “If Haydn were alive to write a string quartet today, it might sound something like Paul Wiancko’s LIFT.”
Want to know more? We sent Paul Wiancko our survey to find out everything—from his childhood nicknames to his preferred footwear.
When did you first start playing music?
I started cello at age 5; I’m a proud student of the Suzuki tradition.
What’s the best/weirdest band name you’ve ever heard?
There are so many great band names out there these days—but truly amazing bands with great names are a little more rare. I’d say that prize goes to the ska band called “Mephiskapheles.”
What’s the craziest place you’ve ever performed?
During my undergrad in Los Angeles, I occasionally played super fancy wedding gigs. The craziest one was for Jason Reitman and Michele Lee. Directly across from where I was playing sat Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Oprah, and Arnold Schwarzenegger—among other celebs. I’ve never been more excited to play Pachelbel’s Canon, and as I ogled all the famous guests, I noticed one of the Governator’s secret service staring back at me, as if to say, “Eyes on the page, pal.” Best gig ever.
If your instrument could talk or sing, whose voice would come out?
Depends on the register, I think. From high to low it would probably go from sounding like Rush’s Geddy Lee to Leonard Cohen.
What’s the best type of cheese?
I used to be obsessed with hard Italian cheeses, but at this moment, it’s a tossup between Midnight Moon and a fresh Gorgonzola.
Do you have any nicknames?
My sisters used to call me Paulywog when I was really little. It has since been shortened to Pauly.
What would you do if you weren’t a musician?
I’d go back to school to study architecture or cinematography.
Instrument you’ll never learn—but want to?
What’s one of the most fun collaboration you’ve ever done?
As a cellist, the most fun was playing with Chick Corea—internalizing his style and sense of rhythm night after night and working up the courage to play freer and freer solos. His influence on me was profound, as both a cellist and composer.
What was the first piece of music you ever wrote?
When I was 6 or 7, I wrote a jazzy little piano piece called “Breeze” in C major. After that I took a break from composing for about 20 years.
If you could drink onstage, what would be your drink of choice?
Fernet on the rocks, a peaty scotch neat, or a good cup of coffee.
Most used emoji in text conversation:
Sneakers or sandals?
I grew up in the town where Rainbow Sandals started, so Rainbows have a special place in my heart. But you have to be out of your mind to wear flip flops in New York City.
See Wiancko play during the Bank of America Chamber Music series at the Dock Street Theatre.
Top right photo by Charina Pitzel