William Phemister, professor and chair of piano studies at Wheaton College, has received acclaim for his artistry around the world. He has performed in Africa for the US State Department, in 14 countries of Asia giving concerts and master classes, in Europe, and in the United States in universities and churches, on television and radio, and with orchestras such as the Baltimore Symphony under Arthur Fiedler, the Central Wisconsin Symphony performing the Gershwin Concerto in F, and the Terre Haute Symphony with David Bowden on the Brahms 2nd Concerto in 2000. In 1992 he traveled to Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand for recitals and workshops, repeating this success in music conservatories in Beijing and Chengdu, Sichuan, China in 1995.
He is a graduate of the Juilliard School and the Peabody Conservatory from which he holds the Doctor of Musical Arts degree as a student of Leon Fleisher. In addition, he studied in Paris at the Ecole Normale de Musique with a Fulbright grant and has won several other prestigious awards such as the National Federation of Music Clubs Young Artist Award and the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Award where he performed the Rachmaninoff 2nd Concerto with Lawrence Foster and the Debut Orchestra on NBC TV in Los Angeles.
William Phemister is the editor of the Masterworks Piano Library, a multi-volume series of classical piano music with volumes already published on Bach, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Liszt, and Music for Christmas. He presents lecture-recitals on this music at music teacher and church musician gatherings around the country. The Church Pianists’ Institute at Wheaton College is founded and directed by Dr. Phemister. In addition, he is the author of an important reference work in the College Music Society’s Bibliographies in American Music series: The American Piano Concerto. From time to time he has been the featured classical artist on transatlantic crossings of the Queen Elizabeth 2.
In recent years, Phemister has focused on the integration of art and music in different historical periods by giving popular and imaginative recitals using projected art slides on Bach and the Baroque, American Music and Art, Liszt and the Romantics, and the French Impressionists. He has recorded a CD featuring the music of Debussy and Ravel as well as five different cassettes of various classical piano composers.
Since 1994, prison ministry has become a very important part of his life, encouraging and supporting prisoners with his music in Sunday chapel visits and weekend workshops.
Composing is another of Phemister’s creative endeavors. Recent compositions include choral works written for First Presbyterian Church and Faith Lutheran Church, both in Glen Ellyn, IL, and a five-movement Piano Mass experimenting with a new style of instrumental church music–music based on a subjective interpretation of the “idea” of the text without actually hearing it sung or spoken. Premiere performances were held at the First Presbyterian Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois and at the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He has also completed a series of liturgical texts for piano and narrator: the Magnificat, the Nunc Dimittis, and the TeDeum. He continues to write in this genre, currently working on setting a number of Psalms.
His favorite captive audience is his grandson, Tristan, born in May 2000 in London and now living in New York City. Tristan receives on his birthday every year a new setting of “Jesus Loves Me”. His soon-to-be-born sibling will get similar gifts on “I want to walk as a child of the light”.