Christian Woehr (pronounced Weer) was born in Dallas, Texas in 1951 into a family of professional orchestra musicians. Within the week, his family moved to Pittsburgh, PA for his father to begin a new position as a horn player with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Eventually acquiring 5 siblings, all musicians, Christian began viola studies at age 8 to fill out the family string quartet. Almost immediately he began composing, rough and self-taught and mainly for his family string ensembles. In 1968, Woehr’s first piece for full orchestra was written for and played by the Pittsburgh Symphony. His cellist mother, largely supportive but still a toughened pro, on getting home from rehearsal (which Christian couldn’t attend because of school), remarked: “It wasn’t as bad as I expected!” It eventually received some 8 performances, and taught Christian that including a rondo, a fugue, and a cadenza for his viola teacher was a bit too much to include in a single 3 minute piece.
Graduating in 1969 as valedictorian and resident nerd of Wilkinsburg High School, Woehr went off on scholarship to the Eastman School of Music, studying viola with Francis Tursi, Martha Katz, and Heidi Castleman, and even a little composition with Warren Benson. Starting in the back of the Rochester Philharmonic as an extra player, he worked his way up (7 auditions) to Principal Viola by the early 80‘s, all the while continuing to write music with varying degrees of success. His ensemble of choice in Rochester was ERVE, the Eastman Rochester Viola Ensemble, a group he founded and eventually dragged, with help from a Meet the Composer grant, all the way to Boston and the 1982 World Viola Congress.
Always searching for a particular sound, not quite having the tools to put it all together but getting closer with each new piece, Woehr could not put the pencil down, even as he left in 1986 for the Assistant Principal Viola position of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. Exposed on a daily basis to the best repertoire and some of the best players in the world, Woehr expected nothing less from his own pieces, continuing to write quietly and behind the scenes for his more adventuresome colleagues. By now his ensemble of choice was full string orchestra, and Woehr’s first significant exposure came with a string symphony titled “Spare Change”, premiered by the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra in June of 1999 (conductor David Loebel), and receiving a Special Distinction award from the ASCAP Nissim Competition.
Beginning to branch out into live free improvisation, Woehr attended a Music For People workshop led by cellist/improviser/composer David Darling (Paul Winter Consort, etc.) in Connecticut. This turned out to be a key to the lock opening up Woehr’s creative abilities. He walked away from that week with a completed seven movement work for viola and African drum titled Djembach, a work for which people have been beating a path to his door ever since. Late in life though it was, Christian was finally putting it all together. When asked in 2011 to make a list of works he had written for his colleagues in the St. Louis Symphony since joining the orchestra, Woehr gave up at 300, suddenly realizing that he had been acting as a sort of Stealth Composer In Residence for a quarter of a century, surpassing in sheer numbers of different works played by STL musicians possibly every other composer/arranger living or dead. Even more interesting was the fact that virtually none of it had been reviewed, allowing Christian to develop his craft without interference or ridicule. His own professional world music ensemble, The Strings of Arda, now performs his works extensively. The combination of strings and percussion, often with an added soloist, turns out to be the perfect venue for achieving that “sound in his head” which has tortured Christian so deliciously since childhood.

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