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William Bolcom and his Piano Concerto

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William Elden Bolcom (born May 26, 1938) is an American composer of keyboard, chamber, operatic, vocal, choral, and symphonic music, and pianist who has received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Medal of Arts, two Grammy Awards, the Detroit Music Award, and was named 2007 Composer of the Year by Musical America. Bolcom was born in Seattle, WA. At the age of 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’s earliest compositions employed 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.  Bolcom taught composition at the University of Michigan from 1973–2008, retiring in 2008 after 35 years. He is married to mezzo-soprano Joan Morris.  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 and Kevin Puts.

Bolcom has composed three major operas, McTeague (1992), A View From the Bridge (1999), and A Wedding (2004), all with librettist Arnold Weinstein, sometimes in collaboration with other writers, as commissioned and premiered by the Lyric Opera of Chicago conducted by Dennis Russell Davies.  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.

Bolcom’s other works include nine symphonies, eleven 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),  a one-act chamber opera, Lucrezia, with librettist Mark Campbell, two film scores (Hester Street and Illuminata), incidental music for stage plays including Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass, fanfares, occasional pieces, and an extensive catalogue of chamber, choral, and vocal works. Bolcom was also commissioned to write Recuerdos for two pianos by The Dranoff International Two Piano Foundation.  His setting of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, a full evening’s work for soloists, choruses, and orchestra, which received its premiere at the Stuttgart Opera in 1984, recorded on the Naxos label won four Grammy Awards in 2006.

As a pianist, Bolcom has performed and recorded frequently in collaboration with Joan Morris, whom he married in 1975  Bolcom and Morris 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 showtunes, parlour, and popular songs from the late 19th and early 20th century, by Henry Russell, Henry Clay Work, and others, and cabaret songs, often from failed musicals). Autumn Leaves was released in 2015.  As a soloist, Bolcom has recorded his own compositions, as well as music by Gershwin, Milhaud and several of the classic Ragtime composers.  Bolcom also holds honorary doctorates from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Albion College.

My collection includes the following work by William Bolcom:

Piano Concerto (1976).

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources

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