Yehudi Wyner didn't hear the news that he had won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for music until 1:30 in the morning yesterday. He and his wife, conductor Susan Davenny Wyner, are in Italy, where he is working on a concerto for Boston violinist Daniel Stepner.
Speaking yesterday from the farmhouse where he is staying, Wyner described the scene.
''A friend was visiting in Florence, so we went into town to have supper with her," said the Boston-based composer. ''Because of all the holiday traffic, we didn't get back here until very late. As we parked the car, we could hear the noise of a full-grown wild boar, and there are plenty of them prowling around here. That was pretty scary, so we hightailed it into the house, where the phone was ringing. It was [pianist] Robert Levin, out of his mind with excitement at the news."
Levin, who teaches at Harvard University, was the soloist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra premiere of Wyner's Pulitzer Prize-winning concerto for piano and orchestra, ''Chiavi in mano," in February 2005. Late Monday night, Levin said, ''To me, what he delivered is a piece of vintage Wyner, rich in emotional communication, eloquence, and vehemence. I felt at the time that I had hit the jackpot, and now he has, too."
Asked what pleases him most about the award, the 76-year-old composer said, ''It's really the culmination of a life's work. Of all my pieces, this one most comprehensively reflects the various sides of me, both the serious and the absurd. People sometimes say they can't ever tell what the next thing out of my mouth is going to be, and there's a lot of truth to that." Humor is not incompatible with sagacity, Wyner added: ''Things that are important don't always need to be delivered with a punch to the solar plexus."
Wyner went on to talk about the ''concatenation of forces and of people" that led to the concerto. ''It began with Bob Levin, who wanted me to write something for him; we have been friends since 1978. Then Anthony Fogg, artistic administrator at the BSO, agreed to commission it because he likes my music; I had written a piece for the BSO Chamber Players called 'Serenade.' And then music director James Levine approved of the project."
Wyner praised conductor Robert Spano's enthusiastic advocacy of the composition and said the response of the BSO musicians was ''stunning; they called me at home about the piece and sent me e-mails. And I have to thank my publisher, Associated Music Publishers, and Susan Feder there. They back my music despite the lack of any major commercial interest in it. The piece represented a collaboration of a community that is pulling together, so for it to have come out well has been deeply satisfying to me."
Wyner said he had few regrets. ''I'm sorry that my parents and that Susan's parents are gone; they got the picture early on of what it was I was trying to do. Susan was profoundly affected by this piece, and there has been a flowering of recognition and response, real response from people who have said this piece really gets to them."
''I don't know what more an artist can ask," Wyner continued, ''except that maybe now someone will commission me to write an opera. I sure do want to do that."