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, band, and symphonic music.
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, band, and symphonic music. He is the 2021 winner of the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition, awarded by the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University.
Born in Seattle, Washington, he 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 composition 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, and his setting of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience on the Naxos label won four Grammy Awards in 2005.
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 [written with Joan Morris’s voice in mind], show tunes, and American popular songs of the 20th century. They have recorded 25 albums together – Autumn Leaves was released in 2015.
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; twelve 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, band, and vocal works. McTeague, A View from the Bridge, and A Wedding were commissioned by and premiered at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Dinner at Eight was commissioned by and premiered at Minnesota Opera. The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance Opera Department mounted four performances of it in November 2017 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the Wexford Festival Opera presented five performances in October and November 2018. A November 2018, radio broadcast in Ireland with streaming across Europe was followed by a rebroadcast on BBC Radio 3 in the U.K. in March 2019.
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 the recently-renovated Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was recorded by Naxos. The CD won four Grammy Awards in 2005: Best Choral Performance, Best Classical Contemporary Composition, Best Classical Album, and Producer of the Year, Classical. Leonard Slatkin conducted that performance as well as an earlier performance in Carnegie Hall.
Nine world premieres in 2018 of new Bolcom works commemorated his 80th year.