National Medal of Arts, Pulitzer Prize, and Grammy Award-winner William Bolcom is an American composer of keyboard, chamber, operatic, vocal, choral, and symphonic music. Born in Seattle, Washington, he began composition studies at the age of eleven. He went on to study with Darius Milhaud at Mills College while working on his Master of Arts degree, with Leland Smith at Stanford University while working on his D.M.A., and with Olivier Messiaen and Milhaud at the Paris Conservatoire, where he received the 2éme Prix de Composition.
Bolcom won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1988 for 12 New Etudes for Piano. He has written four violin sonatas; nine symphonies; three operas (McTeague, A View from the Bridge and A Wedding), plus several musical theater operas; eleven string quartets; two film scores (Hester Street and Illuminata); incidental music for stage plays, including Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass; fanfares and occasional pieces; and an extensive catalogue of chamber, choral, and vocal works. Bolcom’s setting of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, a full evening’s work for soloists, choruses, and orchestra, culminated 25 years of work on the piece. The April 8, 2004, performance in Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was recorded by Naxos. The CD went on to win four Grammy Awards: Best Choral Performance, Best Classical Contemporary Composition, Best Classical Album, and Producer of the Year, Classical.
As a pianist, Bolcom has performed and recorded his own work frequently in collaboration with his wife and musical partner, mezzo-soprano Joan Morris. Their primary specialties in both concerts and recordings are cabaret songs, show tunes, and American popular songs of the 20th century. They have recorded 25 albums together – Autumn Leaves was released in 2015.
Bolcom joined the faculty of the University of Michigan’s School of Music in 1973, was named the Ross Lee Finney Distinguished University Professor of Composition in 1994, and retired in 2008 after 35 years.
Cabrillo Festival welcomed Bolcom as composer-in-residence in 1976 and again in 1986. This season, 2017, will see the West Coast premiere of his Second Symphony on Friday, August 11, performed by the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra conducted by Cristian Macelaru. This is the second performance of the work, following its 2012 world premiere at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music; and is supported in part by a grant from BMI Foundation, Inc’s Jeffrey Cotton Fund.
Photo: Philip Brunnader