William Elden Bolcom (born May 26, 1938) is an American composer and pianist. He has received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Medal of Arts, a Grammy Award, the Detroit Music Award and was named 2007 Composer of the Year by Musical America. He taught composition at the University of Michigan from 1973 until 2008. He is married to mezzo-soprano Joan Morris.
Bolcom was born in Seattle, Washington. At age 11, he entered the University of Washington to study composition privately with George Frederick McKay and John Verrall and piano 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 at the Paris Conservatoire, where he received the 2ème Prix de Composition".
Bolcom won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1988 for 12 New Etudes for Piano. In the fall of 1994, he was named the Ross Lee Finney Distinguished University Professor of Composition at the University of Michigan. In 2006, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. Notable students include Gabriela Lena Frank, Carter Pann, Elena Ruehr, Derek Bermel, Joel Puckett, and David T. Little.
As a pianist, Bolcom has performed and recorded frequently in collaboration with Joan Morris, whom he married in 1975. They have recorded more than two dozen albums together, beginning with the Grammy-nominated After the Ball, a collection of popular songs from around the turn of the 20th century. Their primary specialties in both concerts and recordings are show tunes, parlor, and popular songs from the late 19th and early 20th century by Henry Russell, Henry Clay Work and others, and cabaret songs.
As a soloist, Bolcom has recorded his own compositions, as well as music by George Gershwin, Milhaud and several of the classic ragtime composers. His compositions have been recognized and highlighted at Michigan State University in their Michigan Writers Series.
For a more comprehensive list, see List of compositions by William Bolcom.
Bolcom's earliest compositions were written when he was around eleven years old; his early influences include Roy Harris and Béla Bartók. His compositions from around 1960 employed a modified serial technique, under the influence of Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Luciano Berio, whose music he particularly admired. In the 1960s he gradually began to embrace an eclectic use of a wider variety of musical styles. His goal has been to erase boundaries between popular music and art music.
He has composed four major operas. Three of them, McTeague, A View from the Bridge, and A Wedding were commissioned and premiered by the Lyric Opera of Chicago and conducted by Dennis Russell Davies. All of these were composed with librettist Arnold Weinstein, sometimes in collaboration with other writers. McTeague, based on the 1899 novel by Frank Norris, with libretto by Weinstein, was premiered on October 31, 1992. A View from the Bridge, with libretto by Weinstein and Arthur Miller, was premiered October 9, 1999. A Wedding, based on the 1978 motion picture by Robert Altman and John Considine, with libretto by Weinstein and Altman, was premiered on December 11, 2004. His fourth opera, Dinner at Eight, composed with librettist Mark Campbell, based on the George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber play of the same name, was premiered March 11, 2017, by the commissioning organization, Minnesota Opera.
He has also composed concertos such as Lyric Concerto for Flute and Orchestra for James Galway, the Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra for Sergiu Luca, the Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra for Stanley Drucker, and Concert Suite for alto saxophone and band, composed for University of Michigan professor Donald Sinta in 1998. He composed his concerto Gaea for two pianos (left hand) and orchestra for Gary Graffman and Leon Fleisher, both of whom have suffered from debilitating problems with their right hands. It received its first performance on April 11, 1996 by the Baltimore Symphony conducted by David Zinman. The concerto is constructed so that it can be performed in one of three ways, with either piano part alone with reduced orchestra, or with both piano parts and the two reduced orchestras combined into a full orchestra. This structure mimics that of a similar three-in-one work by his teacher, Darius Milhaud.
Bolcom's other works include nine symphonies, twelve string quartets, four violin sonatas, a number of piano rags (one written in collaboration with William Albright), four volumes of Gospel Preludes for organ, four volumes of cabaret songs, three musical theater works (Casino Paradise, Dynamite Tonite, and Greatshot; all with Weinstein), and a one-act chamber opera, Lucrezia, with librettist Mark Campbell. William Bolcom was also commissioned to write Recuerdos for two pianos by The Dranoff International Two Piano Foundation.
Bolcom has written a number of song cycles. A very large portion of these song cycles were cabarets with lyrics by librettist/lyricist Arnold Weinstein and meant to be sung by mezzo-soprano Joan Morris, William Bolcom's wife. These 24 cabarets were released in four volumes from the 1970s to the 1990s[failed verification] and were released all together on CD. Among Bolcom's other song cycles, the most well-known is his setting of William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience. The recording of this massive work was estimated at $375,000 USD and its length stands at about two and a half hours.[failed verification].
Bolcom's setting of William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, a three-hour work for soloists, choruses, and orchestra, was a culmination of 25 years of work on the piece.
VocalEssence celebrated the music of William Bolcom with a two-week festival in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota in April 2007. Nine different performances and a number of master classes were part of the festival. The spotlight performance was of Bolcom's setting of William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, performed in Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis with over 400 musicians performing under projections of Blake's accompanying artwork by Wendell K. Harrington.
Eastern Michigan University Celebrated its 16th Biennial Contemporary Music Festival by featuring William Bolcom as a guest composer. The three-day festival showcased a range of Bolcom's compositions as well as a discussion on "Musical Grass-Roots" led by Bolcom himself.
Le Piano Ouvert celebrated Bolcom's 75th birthday with a week of concerts and masterclasses in Paris in March 2014. William Bolcom and Joan Morris both performed, and were featured on France Musique in a series of live performances and interviews. The festival was directed by Guy Livingston, Anne de Fornel, and David Levi. Concerts were held at the Mona Bismarck American Center in Paris, and at the Hôtel Talleyrand on Place de la Concorde.
See Joan Morris page for Bolcom and Morris Discography