One of the great composers of our time, William Bolcom has had an illustrious career and continues to receive commissions from premier orchestras, opera companies, chamber ensembles and soloists throughout the world. While his chamber music catalogue boasts two piano quartets, two piano quintets, four violin sonatas, and eleven string quartets, Mr. Bolcom has never written a traditional, substantial piano trio. His existing works for violin, cello, and piano consist of three charming rags that make up the Spring Trio (1996) and the quick-witted and mischievous Introduzione e Rondo: Haydn Go Seek (2009) the latter of which has been featured on Delphi’s concerts throughout 2013-2014.
How is this possible? How did one of the great voices in 20th and 21st century music make it this far without an essay in as beloved a genre as the piano trio? As it turns out, composers are busy, especially composers like William Bolcom. There are always projects and commissions, operas, symphonies, and other ensembles vying for the next opening in the schedule. One thing leads to another, and decades pass without a piano trio.
Next question- how are we the ensemble who gets to receive, premiere and record his first ever Piano Trio? Quite simply, we asked him.
During the summer of 2013, Delphi performed for the first time at the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival at a particularly serendipitous time. The festival was celebrating its 20th anniversary season which coincided with the 75th birthdays of three great American composers: Joan Tower, John Harbison, and William Bolcom. Our trio was asked to prepare Joan Tower’s Big Sky (2000) for workshop with the composer and public performance on the subscription series. Unfortunately, Joan Tower was unable to attend the festival due to illness, and we were unable to meet her and get her feedback on our performance of Big Sky. The festival proceeded as planned with Tower’s music programmed and we did in fact workshop the piece with members of Eighth Blackbird. William Bolcom was in the audience and heard the performance, sharing some very kind words about our playing afterward.
During lunch, many topics were discussed among the veteran composers and young ensembles performing their works. When piano trios come up in conversation, Mr. Bolcom mentioned that he had never written a piano trio. Jeff asked in front of the whole group if he would like to do so. After a short follow up conversation, it was decided that the prospect of writing for trio was in fact appealing and we were put in touch with Mr. Bolcom’s publisher. The details of the commission were then agreed upon, and we had the daunting task of fundraising for the piece.
Enter the phenomenal group of people that make up the Delphi Trio’s Advisory Council. After formally announcing the commission to the council, one of our closest friends and supporters pledged and donated the 50% deposit needed to secure the commission. We were in awe of this generosity and its transformative impact on our ensemble. It was exactly one year from the time we met Bolcom to the moment that we sent our deposit for the new work, to be premiered some time in 2016.
As we returned for our second summer at the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival in June 2014, we reached out to Mr. Bolcom and invited him to our performance in Ann Arbor where he and his wife Joan have their lovely home. Much to our surprise, we were warmly greeted with tantalizing sketches of what will become the Piano Trio, well ahead of schedule. Mr. Bolcom told us that he was unprepared for the immediacy and decisiveness of the ideas that took hold of him as he began to sketch the work. When inspiration strikes, you listen and put pen to paper. All these years, there has been a trio waiting for the opportunity to realize itself, and we are fortunate enough to present that opportunity.
Now, here we are with a forthcoming Trio (one we are absolutely sure is going to be a tremendous addition to the repertoire) whose composition has been driven by genuine desire to express something essential. It is a humbling moment to receive the dedication of this music as a young, upcoming ensemble. We do not command the large budget of more established non-profits and foundations, and we certainly do not have the worldwide fame and recognition of the composer.
What we do have is our playing, our values, our supporters, and our determination. The combination of these four has set the wheels in motion for a new work that is unique in the literature, unique in Bolcom’s oeuvre, unique to our ensemble.
As we plan for the premiere(s) of Bolcom’s Piano Trio written for Delphi, we want to share in our excitement and gratitude with all of you. We look forward to many performances of what will be a remarkable piece by a great artist.
With gratitude and best wishes,
Liana, Michelle, and Jeff