William Elden Bolcom (born in Seattle, Washington, 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. Bolcom taught composition at the University of Michigan from 1973–2008. He is married to mezzo-soprano Joan Morris.
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 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.
As a pianist, Bolcom has performed and recorded frequently in collaboration
with Joan Morris (born in Portland, Oregon, February 10, 1943), 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, 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 Gershwin, Milhaud, and several of the classic Ragtime composers.
Bolcom's compositions date from his eleventh year. 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 and art music.
He has composed four major operas, the first three commissioned and premiered by Lyric Opera o Chicago, and conducted by Dennis Russell Davies: 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; and 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. Dinner at 8 was 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 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 [which in the interview below he calls 'operas for actors'] (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.
-- Throughout this page, names which are links refer to my Interviews elsewhere on my website. BD
George Houle (1927-2017) arrived at Stanford in 1949 as the hired oboist for a Music Department opera and was offered a music scholarship in lieu of payment. Houle, who studied with noted professors Putnam Aldrich and Leonard Ratner, earned a bachelor’s degree in 1950, a master’s degree in 1951 and a doctorate in 1961.
Houle taught at Mills College, the University of Colorado and the University of Minnesota before returning to Stanford in 1962, where he helped to create the Doctor of Musical Arts degree program in the performance of early music.
Houle believed that for his students to truly understand music, they needed to immerse themselves in its history and theory as performers. For instance, to instill the rhythms of Renaissance and Baroque dances, Houle and his students learned those dances, which enhanced their abilities to play them well. Blending music performance with its cultural context was Houle’s foundation as a scholar and performer.
Houle took leave from Stanford from 1972 to 1974 to direct the early
music ensemble New York Pro Musica, which toured the world. He returned
to Stanford and taught there until his retirement in 1992.
[From the Stanford News, March 30, 2017]
© 1986 & 1992 Bruce Duffie
These conversations were recorded in Chicago on June 29, 1986, and November 5, 1992. Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1986, 1988, 1989, 1993, and 1998, and on WNUR in 2004. A copy of the unedited audio of the first interview was placed in the Archive of Contemporary Music at Northwestern University. This transcription was made in 2017, and posted on this website at that time. My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago. You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.