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Classical Notes

Bolcom's permission to borrow

Posted at 4:44 PM on January 11, 2007 by Don Lee

Composer William Bolcom is in the Twin Cities, preparing for VocalEssence's April festival celebrating his music. Bolcom is known for his eclecticism, evident in the massive work to be featured in the festival, his Songs of Innocence and Experience. It ranges from madrigals to modernism to reggae.

In a luncheon today at the Minneapolis Club, Bolcom tried to explain where that eclecticism comes from. Here's a partial list:

• From Monteverdi, whose concept of opera harked back to classic Greek drama, which Bolcom says used various means to appeal to all strata of society

• From Mozart, who tested ideas by rejecting them. When the ideas wouldn't go away, he knew they were good (which is how Bolcom accounts for a country/western setting of Blake's poem "The Shepherd").

• From John Cage, who once told Bolcom there are two kinds of people: those who immediately judge a thing as good or bad and those who take it all in and then decide.

Bolcom didn' t say whether he's ever followed Cage's example of making artistic decisions by rolling the dice.