American composer William Bolcom, National Medal of Arts recipient, Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Award-winner, has been awarded the $100,000 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition from the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University.

Established in 2003, the Nemmers Prize in Music Composition recognizes classical composers of outstanding achievement who have significantly influenced the field of composition.

Bolcom’s composition work spans sonatas, symphonies, operas and music for the stage, film scores, fanfares as well as an extensive catalogue of chamber, choral and vocal works. 

His “Twelve New Etudes” for piano won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1988, and his setting of William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and of Experience” won four Grammy Awards in 2005.

“From opera to ragtime to rock, his imaginative arrangements have moved countless individuals and left a lasting imprint on the world of music,” read Bolcom’s National Medal of Arts citation, presented from the Oval Office in 2003.

“I am extremely delighted and grateful to have won Northwestern University’s Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition,” Bolcom said. “The Bienen School mounted an excellent production of my one-act opera ‘Lucrezia’ some years ago. My wife Joan Morris and I are looking forward to our time at the school over the next two years with enthusiasm.”

Bolcom’s first on-campus residency, scheduled for April 2022, will include performances of his works by Bienen School ensembles as well as other activities, such as coaching student ensembles, meeting with student composers and participating in moderated discussions. Bolcom and his wife and collaborator, mezzo-soprano Joan Morris, will conduct a joint master class for Bienen students as part of the Tichio-Finnie Vocal Master Class Series. His second residency will take place during the 2022-2023 academic year.

“The Bienen School of Music is thrilled to name renowned American composer William Bolcom the winner of the 2021 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize,” said Toni-Marie Montgomery, dean of the Bienen School of Music.

“After the challenges of the past year, it will be especially meaningful for our students and faculty to gather and benefit from Mr. Bolcom’s in-person residencies at Northwestern during the next two academic years,” said Montgomery.

Previous winners of the biennial Nemmers Prize in Music Composition include John Adams (2004); Oliver Knussen (2006); Kaija Saariaho (2008); John Luther Adams (2010); Aaron Jay Kernis (2012); Esa-Pekka Salonen (2014); Steve Reich (2016); and Jennifer Higdon (2018). The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the awarding of a 2020 prize by one year.

About William Bolcom 

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.

About the Nemmers Prizes

The Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition recognizes composers who show the highest level of achievement in a substantial and continuing body of work. Nominations are solicited worldwide and the winner is determined by a committee comprising individuals of widely recognized stature in the music community.

In addition to the Nemmers Prize in Music Composition, Northwestern University awards the Erwin Plein Nemmers Prize in Economics, the Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize in Mathematics, the Mechthild Esser Nemmers Prize in Medical Science and the Nemmers Prize in Earth Sciences. All five Nemmers prizes are made possible through bequests from the late Erwin Esser Nemmers, a former member of the Northwestern faculty, and his brother, the late Frederic E. Nemmers.

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