He has been composing since he was five and he has been a forceful presence on the American musical scene for more than four decades.
In 1970, Wuorinen became the youngest composer to win the Pulitzer Prize (for the electronic work Time's Encomium). The Pulitzer and the MacArthur Fellowship are just two among many awards, fellowships and other honors to have come his way.
Wuorinen has written more than 250 compositions to date. His newest works include Time Regained, a fantasy for piano and orchestra for Peter Serkin, James Levine and the MET Opera Orchestra, Second Piano Quintet for Peter Serkin and the Brentano Quartet, Eighth Symphony for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Fourth Piano Sonata for Anne- Marie McDermott and Synaxis for four soloists, strings and timpani. Upcoming projects include an opera on Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain. (Wuorinen’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories based on the novel of Salman Rushdie was premiered by the New York City Opera in Fall 2004.)
An indication of Wuorinen's historical importance can be seen in the fact that in 1975 Stravinsky's widow gave Wuorinen the composer's last sketches for use in A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky. Wuorinen was the first composer commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra under Christoph von Dohnanyi (Movers and Shakers); and likewise the first to compose for Michael Tilson Thomas' New World Symphony (Bamboula Beach). Fractal geometry and the pioneering work of Benoit Mandelbrot have played a crucial role in several of his works including Bamboula Squared and the Natural Fantasy, a work for organ.
His works have been recorded on nearly a dozen labels including several releases on Naxos, Albany Records (Charles Wuorinen Series), John Zorn’s Tzadik label, and a CD of piano works performed by Alan Feinberg on the German label Col Legno. Wuorinen's works are published exclusively by C.F. Peters Corporation. He is the author of Simple Composition, used by composition students throughout the world.
An eloquent writer and speaker, Wuorinen has lectured at universities throughout the United States and abroad, and has served on the faculties of Columbia, Princeton, and Yale Universities, the University of Iowa, University of California (San Diego), Manhattan School of Music, New England Conservatory, State University of New York at Buffalo, and Rutgers University.
Wuorinen has also been active as performer, an excellent pianist and a distinguished conductor of his own works as well as other twentieth century repertoire. His orchestral appearances have included the Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the American Composers Orchestra.
In 1962 he co-founded the Group for Contemporary Music, one of America's most prestigious ensembles dedicated to performance of new chamber music.
In addition to cultivating a new generation of performers, commissioning and premiering hundreds of new works, the Group has been a model for many similar organizations which have appeared in the United States since its founding.
Wuorinen is a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.