Pulizter Prize-winning composer and pianist William Bolcom was born in Seattle, Washington, in 1938. Exhibiting early musical talent, he entered the University of Washington at age 11, studying composition with John Verrall and piano with Berthe Poncy Jacobson, and earning his B.A. there in 1958. During this time, he performed solo piano and chamber music concerts in the Seattle area as well as throughout the Northwest.
Further studies followed with Darius Milhaud at Mills College in California and in Paris at the Conservatoire de Musique. He completed his doctorate in composition at Stanford University in 1964, where he studied with Leland Smith. Returning to the Paris Conservatoire in 1964, he won the Second Prize in composition in 1965. While in Europe he began writing stage scores for theaters in West Germany, and continued to do so at Stanford University, in Memphis, Tenn., at Lincoln Center/New York, the Yale Repertory Theater, and others.
Recent premieres of Bolcom's music cover a broad range, including: a Symphonic Concerto for the Met Orchestra premiered at Carnegie Hall, May 19, 2002; a Piano Quintet written to honor Isaac Stern's 80th birthday, premiered by Stern, members of the Emerson Quartet, and pianist Jonathan Biss in Washington, D.C. on March 10, 2001; A View from the Bridge, an opera commissioned by the Lyric Opera of Chicago and premiered there on October 9, 1999 (in December 2002 the Metropolitan Opera will present seven performances); and the Sixth Symphony, commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra, premiered in February 1998 by the NSO, Leonard Slatkin conducting.
Future works commissioned include A Wedding, an opera based on Robert Altman's movie (with libretto by Arnold Weinstein), which will be premiered at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in December 2004.
Bolcom's Lyric Concerto was commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation and the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition for flutist James Galway, conductor Leonard Slatkin, and the Saint Louis Symphony. The dedicatees gave the premiere in October 1993.
This concerto was custom designed for Galway, from the nimble charm of the opening "Leprechaun" movement to the jazzy tailored finale, "A Bespoke Rondo." Bolcom even quotes an Irish folk song, "May Morning Dew," from County Galway, in the middle movements.
The concerto is lyrical indeed in its profusion of tunes, revealing the composer's characteristic wit and affection for popular music. But it is a dancing concerto as much as a singing one. "Leprechaun" leaps into immediate action. The solo part scampers along in a haunted hurry through a classically balanced scenario. The orchestra - which has piccolo and alto flute, but no standard flute to be confused aurally with the protagonist - provides some of its own solo interaction in a fey texture very much like a Mendelssohn scherzo.
The second movement, "Waltz-Clog," is Bolcom's updated take on the classical minuet and trio form. Here a New York waltz surrounds a sort of stomping jig, with a folk song counter-melody and a little solo cadenza before the close. The slow movement is a decidedly troubled reverie for the soloist, recalling the folksong from the second movement against a glazed background of still string chords.
The finale opens with a jaunty rag, reminding us of Bolcom's abundantly expressed fascination with that style. He transforms this into a manic salute to Dizzy Gillespie and bebop, "Bebopo-gorrah: Tombeau de Diz." A crooning beguine introduces a new section, soon jolted out of its supple rhapsodizing by timpani, bongos, and snare drum. There are references to material from earlier movements, as Bolcom explores traditional architectural devices as eagerly as he reinterprets vernacular styles.
-- John Henken serves as Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.