Though they have worked together in various combinations before, when William Bolcom and Joan Morris join Gabriel Bolkosky and Michelle Cooker for “An Afternoon of American Music” at the Kerrytown Concert House on November 29, it will be the first time all four of them have shared a program.
Bolcom and Morris are very familiar names to Ann Arborites. Even among our town’s wealth of nationally and internationally acclaimed musicians, they are the undisputed First Couple. Bolcom’s compositions, whether ten-second cabaret pieces or symphonies and grand operas, have won him numerous prizes from the Pulitzer to multiple Grammy awards, while his many performances and recordings with his wife, mezzo-soprano Joan Morris, have won them a Grammy nomination and a large and enthusiastic following.
Though comparative newcomers, Bolkosky and Cooker are also no strangers to local audiences. Violinist Bolkosky has appeared widely as a soloist and in chamber music configurations, including a recent performance at Carnegie Hall, while pianist Cooker has accompanied and performed with numerous prominent violinists, both locally and nationally.
Anchoring the first half of the afternoon, which Bolkosky and Cooker will devote primarily to Bolcom’s compositions, is his Sonata No. 3 for Violin and Piano. Commissioned in honor of famed violin teacher Dorothy DeLay’s 75th birthday, the Sonata received its premiere at the 1992 Aspen Music Festival, with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg on violin and the composer at the piano. Bolkosky, then nineteen and a student at the U-M, was in the front row that day. “I was mesmerized,” he recalls now. Inspired to learn the piece, he even worked up the courage to ask Bolcom to perform it with him a few years later. Virtuosic and filled with modern melodic and harmonic language, the sonata is a work that, as the famed music critic Nicolas Slonimsky said about Bolcom’s music, “compels the audience to follow.”
When Bolcom and Morris take the stage for the second half, they’ll offer the cabaret part of this classical-meets-cabaret concert. Drawing on their enormous repertoire–they’ve released more than two dozen recordings–they will, Morris says, “restore some songs we’ve not done for many years.” Choosing material from the Big Five of modern American popular music–Berlin, Kern, Gershwin, Porter, and Rodgers & Hart–plus songs by Kurt Weill and Leiber & Stoller, they’ll also showcase Bolcom originals, including cameo appearances by his Minicabs, tiny tunes with lyrics by longtime collaborator Arnold Weinstein. A sample: “I will never forgive you,” repeated three times for emphasis, before concluding with, “for my behavior!”
Bolcom and Morris present all these with that perfect blend of sophistication, wit, charm, and elegance that is the trademark of both great cabaret songs and their performances.