The University Record, February 25, 1998

Bolcom's Symphony No. 6 premieres in Washington


By Rebecca A. Doyle

It's not unusual for a U-M faculty member to go to Washington, D.C. Faculty are often asked for their opinions or to use their expertise on behalf of the United States.

But tomorrow, pianist, composer and U-M music Prof. William Bolcom will be in the nation's capitol for a different reason than offering his talents to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Bolcom will be in Washington for the world premiere of his 6th symphony at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Before the National Symphony Orchestra takes the stage under the baton of Leonard Slatkin, however, Bolcom will join President Lee C. Bollinger, Vice Provost for the Arts Paul C. Boylan and a group of U-M supporters and alumni from the D.C. area for a reception hosted by the U-M president.

The symphony's four movements are a lament, a burlesque, an adagio memorial to Bolcom's mother and a march.

Almost a year in the writing, the symphonic work features a fluegel horn and saxophone in the second movement-the same movement that contains a never-published folk tune by Vincent Youmans that Bolcom says was rescued from some old acetate recording discs made in a sanatorium.

The third movement, a memorial to Bolcom's mother, was premiered by the Lancaster Symphony last year.

"This is a serious symphony," Bolcom says. He will also speak at the reception about the work and how it evolved.

This latest work is not the only thing that has consumed Bolcom's time during the past year. Boylan, who also is dean of the School of Music, says that the School granted a leave of absence to Bolcom this year so that he could not only finish the symphony, but also "fulfill commitments to his commissions for the Lyric Opera of Chicago and for the movie score he has due in March."

Bolcom is currently working on the score for the John Turturo film Illuminata, to be recorded the second week in March.

"I write whenever I can," he says of his composing methods. "I write in hotel rooms, in airports, just whenever I have a few minutes." Boylan notes that Bolcom prefers to compose by hand rather than using computer software to aid him. That way, he is never without the tools of his trade.

"Bill brings a sense of reality to our young starting composers who come to study at the School," Boylan says. "He has a sense of what it is truly like to succeed on the national scene. That is invaluable for the students to hear.

"He also is a wonderful teacher for composition students."

Boylan will join Bollinger in speaking about Bolcom's career tomorrow night following the reception.

Bolcom, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988, the Governor's Michigan Artist Award in 1987 and has performed extensively all over the country with his wife, Joan Morris, joined the U-M in 1973.