2006 National Medal of Arts
Classical composer, Ann Arbor, MI
William Bolcom is widely recognized for his outstanding compositions of
American music that encompass chamber, choral, and orchestral works as well
as opera, musical theater, cabaret, and popular song. Among his many compositions
are four violin sonatas; eight symphonies; three operas (McTeague, A
View from the Bridge, and A Wedding) written with the late poet/librettist
Arnold Weinstein; 11 string quartets; two film scores (Hester Street
and Illuminata); incidental music for numerous stage plays (including
Arthur Miller's Broken Glass); and three theater-operas for actors
(also written with Weinstein).
Born in Seattle, Washington in 1938, Bolcom exhibited musical talent very
young, studying composition at the University of Washington with George
Frederick McKay at age eight. He received his B.A. from that university,
later studying with Darius Milhaud at the Aspen Music Festival, Mills College,
and the Paris Conservatoire de Musique. He earned a doctorate in composition
in 1964 from Stanford University working with Leland Smith. Returning to
the Paris Conservatoire, he won the 2e Prix in Composition in 1965.
Among Bolcom's noted compositions is New Etudes for Piano, which
won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1988. His setting of William Blake's
Songs of Innocence and of Experience premiered at the Stuttgart
Opera in 1984 under Dennis Russell Davies. The 2004 recording of the work
on Naxos Records received four Grammy Awards for the 2005 Best Classical
Album, Best Choral Performance, Best Classical Contemporary Composition,
and Best Producer of the Year/Classical.
The list of recordings of his music includes four of the symphonies, the
opera A View from the Bridge, and approximately 20 recordings of
his piano rag Graceful Ghost. To appear soon on disc are the complete
violin and piano works and the totality to date of his works for violoncello
and solo piano.
Among Bolcom's other awards are the Marc Blitzstein Award (1965) from the
Academy of Arts and Letters for Dynamite Tonite. He has received
Grammy nominations for his Fourth Symphony (in 1988), featuring
Joan Morris as mezzo-soprano soloist with Leonard Slatkin and the Saint
Louis Symphony Orchestra, and for Orphéé-Sérénade
(in 1992) recorded by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra with Bolcom as pianist.
He has received two Guggenheim fellowships, four Rockefeller Foundation
awards and four fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.
In addition to concertizing together for more than 30 years, Bolcom and
his wife, mezzo-soprano Joan Morris, have recorded more than two dozen albums
together. Their first, After the Ball, garnered a Grammy nomination
in 1974 for Morris. Most recently, Bolcom and Morris recorded two albums
of songs by lyricist E. Y. "Yip" Harburg and Gus Kahn on Original
Cast Records, and all of the Bolcom/Weinstein Cabaret Songs and
Ancient Cabaret on Centaur. Bolcom currently serves as the Ross Lee Finney Distinguished University Professor of Composition at the University of Michigan, where he has been on the faculty since 1973.
2006 National Medal of Arts recipient and composer William Bolcom accepts his award from President and Mrs. Laura Bush in an Oval Office ceremony on November 9, 2006. He is accompanied by his wife Joan Morris. Mr. Bolcom's citation reads, "From opera to ragtime to rock, his imaginative arrangement have moved countless individuals and left a lasting imprint on the world of music." White House photo by Paul Morse.
< 2006 National Medal of Arts press release
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