2021 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition

William Bolcom

2021 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition Prize

William Bolcom

For his vital contributions to 20th- and 21st-century American music across a variety of instrumental and vocal settings, masterfully fusing classical and popular influences that are uniquely effective at speaking to the human experience.

Official press release

William Bolcom is a National Medal of Arts, Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Award-winning composer of keyboard, chamber, operatic, vocal, choral and symphonic music. Born in Seattle, Washington, he began composition studies at the age of 11 with George Frederick McKay and John Verrall at the University of Washington while continuing piano lessons 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 DMA, and with Olivier Messiaen and Milhaud at the Paris Conservatoire, where he received the 2ème Prix de Composition. 

He joined the faculty of the University of Michigan's School of Music in 1973, was named the Ross Lee Finney Distinguished University Professor of Composition in 1994 and retired in 2008 after 35 years. 

As a pianist, Bolcom has performed and recorded his own works frequently in collaboration with his wife and musical partner, mezzo-soprano Joan Morris. Their primary specialties are cabaret songs, show tunes and American popular songs of the 20th century. They have recorded 25 albums together.

As a composer, Bolcom has written four violin sonatas; nine symphonies; four operas (“McTeague,” “A View from the Bridge,” “A Wedding” and “Dinner at Eight”), plus several musical theater operas; 12 string quartets; two film scores (“Hester Street” and “Illuminata”); incidental music for stage plays, including Arthur Miller's “Broken Glass”; fanfares and occasional pieces; and an extensive catalogue of chamber, choral and vocal works.

Bolcom's setting of William Blake's “Songs of Innocence and of Experience,” a full evening's work for soloists, choruses and orchestra, culminated 25 years of work on the piece. The April 8, 2004, performance in the Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was recorded by Naxos. The CD won four Grammy Awards in 2005: Best Choral Performance, Best Classical Contemporary Composition, Best Classical Album and Producer of the Year, Classical.

Nine world premieres in 2018 of new Bolcom works commemorated his 80th year.