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William Bolcom Biography

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William Elden Bolcom (born May 26, 1938) is an American composer and pianist. He has received the Pulitzer Prize, three Grammy Awards, and the Detroit Music Award. Bolcom is a professor of music composition at the University of Michigan. He is married to mezzo-soprano Joan Morris.

Bolcom was born in Seattle, Washington. At the age of 11, he entered the University of Washington to study composition privately with George Fredrick McKay and John Verall 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 2éme 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, a position which he still holds.

As a pianist, Bolcom has performed and recorded his own work frequently in collaboration with Joan Morris. Bolcom and Morris have recorded twenty albums together, beginning with 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 and popular songs from the early 20th century, and cabaret songs (often from failed musicals).

Bolcom's setting of William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, a three-hour work for soloists, choruses, and orchestra culminated 25 years of work on the piece. Its premiere at the Stuttgart Opera in 1984 was followed by performances in Ann Arbor, Chicago's Grant Park, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, St. Louis, Carnegie Hall, and London's Royal Festival Hall, the latter performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Leonard Slatkin. In 2006, it won 3 Grammy Awards for Best Choral Performance, Best Classical Contemporary Composition, and Best Classical Album under the Naxos label.

His opera, A View from the Bridge, with libretto by Arthur Miller and Arnold Weinstein, was premiered October 9, 1999, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He has also composed works for solo wind instruments such as Concert Suite for alto saxophone and band, composed for University of Michigan professor Donald Sinta in 1998.

Bolcom's other works include six symphonies, a number of piano rags (some written in collaboration with William Albright), and four volumes of cabaret songs which have recently been revived by Michelle and David Murray, another husband-and-wife performing duo. He composed his Concerto for Two Pianos, Left Hand for Gary Graffman and his close friend Leon Fleisher, both of whom have suffered from debilitating problems with their right hands. It received its first performance in Baltimore in April 1996. The concerto is constructed in such a way 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 challenging structure mimics that of a similar three-in-one work by his teacher Milhaud.
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