Richard Wilson was born in Cleveland on May 15, 1941. He studied piano with Roslyn Pettibone, Egbert Fischer, and Leonard Shure, andcello with Robert Ripley and Ernst Silberstein. After beginning composition studies with Roslyn Pettibone and Howard Whittaker, he went on in 1959 to Harvard, studying with Randall Thompson, G.W. Woodworth, and principally with Robert Moevs, and graduating in 1963 magna cum laude. Awarded the Frank Huntington Beebe Award for study abroad, he continued studying piano with Friedrich Wührer in Munich, and composition, again with Moevs, in Rome, where he also gave piano recitals. Wilson joined the faculty of Vassar College in 1966. He was appointed to the Mary Conover Mellon Professorship of Music there in 1988, and he has served three times as chairman of the Department of Music.
Wilson has been commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony, the American Symphony, the New Juilliard Ensemble, the Koussevitzky Foundation, the Fromm Foundation, Chamber Music America, the Chicago Chamber Musicians, the Walter W. Naumburg Foundation, and the Library of Congress. His works have been heard in such American musical centers as New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Boston, Cleveland, and Los Angeles and at the Aspen Music Festival, but also in London, Berlin, Frankfurt, Zurich, Milan, Amsterdam, Graz, Leningrad, Stockholm, Tokyo, Bogota, and a number of Australian cities.
The recipient in 1992 of a Guggenheim Fellowship, he was awarded the Elise L. Stoeger Prize of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in 1994, the Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2004, and has served as composer in residence with the American Symphony Orchestra since 1992.
Wilson has been praised by 21st Century Music as a “splendidly talented and highly accomplished composer whose music rewards seeking out” and by the New York Sun as “possessed of a hard-won idiom that has grown and developed over the years into a probing blend of wit, classic form, modern harmony, and impressionistic color.” Writing in the New Yorker, Andrew Porter called his String Quartet No. 3 a “richly wrought and unusual composition,” while the New York Times called it “a work of substance and expressivity … [that] merits a place in the active repertory.”