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About this Piece

Professor Emeritus William Bolcom, recipient of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Music, maintains an active schedule of performing and composing in spite of his recent retirement from the University of Michigan. As piano soloist, accompanist, and composer, Bolcom is represented on recordings for Nonesuch, Deutsche Grammophon, RCA, CBS, MHS, Arabesque, Jazzology, Vox, Advance, CRI, Philips, Laurel, First Edition, Newport Classics, Omega, Vanguard, Argo, Koch Classics, Crystal, New World, Centaur, Folkways, Naxos, and many others.

Recipient of fellowships and grants from numerous major foundations, Bolcom was admitted to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1993. His recent honors include a Grammy for Best Classical Contemporary Composition for the recording of his Songs of Innocence and of Experience (the album won a total of four Grammys) and the National Medal of Arts.

Bolcom taught previously at the University of Washington, Queens and Brooklyn Colleges of the City University of New York, and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He joined the UM faculty in 1973, received the Henry Russel Award in 1977 and the Henry Russel Lectureship in 1997, was appointed Ross Lee Finney Distinguished Professor of Composition in 1994, and chaired the Composition Department from 1998 to 2003. The composer provided the following note:

“Concerto Grosso, written for the PRISM Saxophone Quartet (which has included at different times a few of my former students in composition), was written purely as a piece to be enjoyed by performers and listeners. PRISM had mentioned wanting a concerto grosso for themselves. (To remind readers, a concerto grosso is a Baroque-era form involving a small group of instrumentalists, called the concertino, in dialog with the ripieno or large orchestra.)

“Although each PRISM member is an excellent soloist, I took their request to mean that I should emphasize their group identity, their ‘fourness.’ This immediately called up two precedents in my mind: the Schumann concerto for horn quartet which is very homophonic, and the many 20th-century groups of all sorts which often dressed alike to emphasize their uniqueness, from the Four Lads and the Beatles to the Motown groups and countless others.

“The first movement, Lively, in simple sonata form, evokes blues harmonies in both its themes. Song without Words, which follows, is a lyrical larghetto. The following Valse, which has a very French cast, begins with a long solo stretch for the saxophone quartet; the development of this theme alternates with a pianissimo Scherzetto section. The final Badinerie, a title borrowed from Bach, evokes bebop and rhythm-and-blues.

“The orchestral version of this work was commissioned by New Sounds Music, Inc. for the PRISM Quartet, with support from a variety of funding agencies, and premiered in 2000. I did the band transcription in 2009, stemming from a request by Professor Michael Haithcock to enable the work to be performed on the Symphony Band’s upcoming tour of China. As a result, the version for band was commissioned by a consortium of bands organized by the University of Michigan, in partnership with Baylor University, Eric Wilson, conductor; Indiana University, Stephen Pratt, conductor; the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Kevin Geraldi and John Locke, conductors; and the University of Texas at Austin, Jerry Junkin, conductor.”

The composer wishes to thank Paul Dooley for his technical assistance in producing the performance materials for this version. Support for this commission was provided by the University of Michigan’s H. Robert Reynolds Commissioning Fund.

— Notes supplied by the University of Michigan