Walter Ross, whose works have been performed in over 40 countries, is perhaps best known for his compositions featuring brass and woodwinds. Raised in Nebraska, he became a professional orchestral French horn player by the age of seventeen and went on to gain more performance experience in college as a member of the University of Nebraska symphonic band, and as a flute player with a baroque ensemble. After four years of engineering and astronomy, he switched to music, receiving much of his early compositional training under Robert Beadell. While working on his doctoral degree at Cornell (where he studied under Robert Palmer and Karel Husa), he received an Organization of American States Fellowship to study composition privately under Alberto Ginastera in Argentina.
The influences of his own extensive performance background and his musical training under composers who stressed bright orchestration and rhythmic excitement can be heard in many of Ross' over one hundred works. He liked to write music that musicians enjoy performing and audiences enjoy hearing. Many of his later works are representative of his interest in neo-modal, pandiatonic composition.
Ross wrote a number of major orchestral concertos including ones for oboe and harp, bassoon, clarinet, piano, flute and guitar, trombone, tuba, double bass, and violin. He prefered the concerto form to that of the symphony because of its more varied possibilities for artistic expression in contrasting the solo against the orchestra.
In 1997 he wrote a cantata featuring the poetry of Rita Dove, American Poet Laureate. She sang as the soloist at the premier with the Charlottesville Oratorio Society. Later choral works include Evensong and Lux Aeterna. Written to honor the victims of 9/11, Lux Aeterna has been performed at Ground Zero among many other locations
Ross received a number of awards and prizes and many significant grants and fellowships. His work is widely performed, and many of his compositions have been published and recorded. He was a resident of Charlottesville, Virginia. He served as president of the Southeastern Composers League and as a judge at international composition symposia. He had been a visiting composer at the Aspen Music Festival and a featured composer at several universities and forums and on national and international radio broadcasts, and a member of the board of the Capital Composers Alliance.