Bruce Wolosoff only has to take a few steps from the piano where he spends much of his time to a wall of windows overlooking the waves lapping the edge of Silver Beach where his home is perched. When he’s composing, he said, “I get a huge amount of inspiration from nature.
The fruits of this inspiration were recognized recently, when a cello concerto he composed was recorded by cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio and the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the recording climbed to the Top 10 in Billboard Magazine’s classical music chart.
The home he shares with his wife, artist Margaret Garrett, and their daughters, was the first house built in Silver Beach, and survived the 1938 hurricane. They moved to the Island from the city about 20 years ago to give their daughters, Juliet and Katya, a healthful place to grow up.
“I looked at what was called a playground at city schools,” he said. “A playground? It was dirt.”
As commanding as the water view is, the interior of the house is an architectural composition of their eclectic interests, from books to art to music. On a recent morning, Mr. Wolosoff was surrounded by a panoply of drums and other musical instruments, which Thanksgiving guests had taken up in a fun jam session. Holding up what looked like a big kazoo with a keyboard, he declared it to be his new favorite instrument.
Both daughters have followed in their parents’ creative footsteps, honing their talents in music, visual and literary arts.
The family thrives in the Island environment, Mr. Wolosoff said. “The people I’ve found in Shelter Island are the most interesting I’ve ever met.”
Growing up in the 1960s in the New York area, he felt the influence of rock music. “The early British rock masters were handing back our American blues,” he said. Another early influence on his music was rocker Frank Zappa. “He was a huge advocate of modern classical music,” Mr. Wolosoff said. He came to appreciate groundbreaking modern composers like Igor Stravinsky and ultimately developed what he called a “deep, deep love of jazz.”
Mr. Wolosoff’s wife also pursues her art at home. Next to their house is a studio they built where she creates her abstract paintings and prints. One of her works, over their fireplace, suggests a dancing figure; she was a dancer herself before turning to painting.
As a child, Mr. Wolosoff begged for piano lessons when his older sister had them, but the piano teacher said his hands were too small. He was two years old. One year later, he was allowed to begin. He wasn’t a prodigy, he said, but became more and more serious about music in his teen years: “It was constant, from morning to night.”
He attended Bard College to conform to his parents’ hopes that he might pursue law or a field more lucrative than music. “When I had a chance to perform at Carnegie Recital Hall and got a standing ovation, my stepfather said to my mother, ‘Do you still want him to be a tax attorney?’”
He laughed and said she stuck to that position, at least at that point. Later, he would attend the New England Conservatory of Music for graduate work, where he met a pianist named Jaki Byard. “He changed my life,” Mr. Wolosoff said. “He was unquestionably the best musician I’ve ever known.”
Mr. Byard was a noted, versatile musician who composed and played with many leading bands before beginning to teach at the Conservatory. “He showed me a lot about improvisation,” Mr. Wolosoff said, “how to use all the elements. And improvisation leads to composition.”
Asked to describe his process when composing, he said, “I listen for something. I empty my mind. That’s how it begins. What happens next is an act of will. I put myself in that open place. Then, it’s an act of reception.” Once he’s written a composition down, he said he’ll go through it “a million times, refining, making a laundry list when I find something wrong, even if I don’t know what it is at first.”
The new cello concerto took six months from the first draft. “Neil Simon said, ‘Once you write it down, let it sit,’” he said. Once he got the piano score down, he began to orchestrate the music for the various instruments. It had to be finished six weeks before the session when the Royal Philharmonic recorded it — with no rehearsal. At that session, he made a last couple of tweaks — a cornet rest here, less violin there — and then was done, surrendering his creation to the orchestra to bring his music to life.