National Medal of Arts, Pulitzer Prize, and Grammy Award-winner William Bolcom (born May 26, 1938) is an American composer of keyboard, chamber, operatic, vocal, choral, and symphonic music.
Born in Seattle, Bolcom began composition studies at the age of 11 with George Frederick McKay and John Verrall at the University of Washington while continuing piano lessons with Madame Berthe Poncy Jacobson. He later studied 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.
He 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.
Bolcom won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1988 for 12 New Etudes for Piano. His 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. Its April 2004 performance was recorded by Naxos, and went on to win four Grammy Awards in 2005: 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. They specialize in cabaret songs, show tunes, and American popular songs of the 20th century, and have recorded 25 albums together.
As a composer, Bolcom has written four violin sonatas; nine symphonies; four operas (McTeague, A View from the Bridge, A Wedding, and Dinner at Eight), plus several musical theater operas; eleven string quartets; two film scores (Hester Street and Illuminata); incidental music for stage plays; fanfares and occasional pieces; and an extensive catalogue of chamber, choral, and vocal works.
William Bolcom returns to the Cabrillo Festival as we honor of his 80th birthday year with the performance of his Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra, featuring Philippe Quint, on Saturday, August 4, during the After Dixieland concert.
Photo by Philip Brunnader