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Confessions of a non-organist 

Eastman School of Music, Rochester, New York, September 27, 2013 

Speech given at the EROI (Eastman Rochester Organ Initiative) Festival

I’ll bet I am one of a very small percentage of non-organists in this room, if not the only one.  Having known and worked with organists for a long time, and even having once been invited to a Calgary convention to judge organ playing, I feel like a welcome guest among you.   Organists constitute a large and, at least in my experience, collegial group. 

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The Future of The Orchestra 

by William Bolcom 
August 2013 

It is well known that small audiences are commonplace nowadays in orchestral concerts. It’s pleasant to talk about outreach programs as possible solutions to audience indifference, but one of the most used outreach efforts in the last several decades was the increase in “pops” programs, which have rarely reaped the hoped-for financial benefits (and were tough on orchestral morale). Something more fundamental to the orchestra’s existence needs to be addressed. We need not only to rethink the orchestra’s position in society; it might be a good time to rethink the makeup of the orchestra itself. 

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Survival: Continuing as Artists 

Rackham School of Graduate Studies, University of Michigan 

Speech at the Reception and Induction of New Members of Phi Kappa Phi 
March 15, 2009 

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you. I’ll be talking to you today about something very much on my mind, the continuation of artistic health in a hostile environment. I should qualify that remark: it is often said that America is a philistine country toward the arts, and there is some truth to that. But I would contend that perhaps in some ways the US relative lack of support might have been healthier for these arts in some ways than the European state support has proven to be, which I’ll come to later. The comparisons of the two scenes, at the admittedly anecdotal level I can cite in my own history as composer for concert hall, cabaret, stage, opera, ballet, film — in other words what a busy composer does these days in the 20th and 21st centuries — will be the basis for my text. 

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An Update on Virgil Thomson's "The State of Music"  

The Henry Russel Lecture at the University of Michigan
11 March 1997 

Few writers on music have been as colorful, as astute, or as infuriating as the composer-critic Virgil Thomson. Chief music critic for the late, lamented New York Herald-Tribune from 1940 through 1954, he used his bully-pulpit to increase public awareness of the newest American music and our best young native composers and performers. He also shamelessly used his critic's power to obtain performances of his own music and to settle scores in the music world in the most highhanded way possible. He certainly indulged in some of the "old-American" set of prejudices that can also be found in the writings of a close counterpart, H. L. Mencken. As with Mencken, however, the rereading of Thomson is usually worth the occasional wince. 

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The End of the Mannerist Century  

by William Bolcom 

In March of 1996 the composer Donald Martino came under attack from the musicologist-critic Richard Taruskin, who in a New York Times article on twelve-tone composition excoriated Martino as one of its more perniciously academic practitioners.(1)  All this only occasioned by the reissue, mind you, of a Nonesuch record of around twenty years before; it's as if someone, now, decided to ambush a prizefighter walking by for winning a controversial match in 1965.

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