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October 19, 1995 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 1995-10-19

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The Michigan Daily - W ct. - Thursday, October 19, 1995 -7E


Bolcom trie
By Emily Lambort
Dally Fine Arts Editor
The story behind University profes-
sor William Bolcom's "Lyric Concerto
for Flute and Orchestra," on this week's
Detroit Symphony program, is one of
friends, famous people, fate and far-
away places.
The time was 1960. The setting:
France. Bolcom was a student and bud-
ding composer who, between classes at
the conservatory, would "mosey around
Paris" with his friends, Martin and
"Jirf my was this marvelous, funny,
leprechaunish, very young kind of per-
son, who always had a very fun atmo-
sphere about him," Bolcom recalled,
"You know, he would appear and dis-
appear. Suddenly he was there. Sud-
denly he was gone... just your standard
Irish leprechaun type of guy."
Bolcom, a Seattle native and some-
what leprechaunish himself, enjoyed
Jimmy's animated personality and,
anmidst the moseying, wrote a short,
spirited piece for his flutist friend. "I
just wrote it out for him, said 'Here!'
and forgot about it," said Bolcom with
a grin.
Years passed and the friends lost
contact. Bolcom's piano and compo-
sitional talent brought him acclaim,
awards and a professorship at the Uni-
versity. Jimmy, better known as James
Galway, became a world class flute
soloist with nearly unprecedented
fame. Martin remained a lifeline be-
Continued from Page 1B
when it comes to deriding the NEA's
accomplishments. In fact, it seems that
economic reasons are not the main rea-
sons behind NEA opposition. Rather,
conservative critics, often led by the reli-
gious right, have lobbied against the NEA
on moral grounds for years. Ironically,
current NEA director Jane Alexander,
was one of the first NEA-supported art-
ists whose work was considered "scan-
dalous." She starred in the stage play
"The Great White Hope" opposite James
Earl Jones. Many considered the play's
portrayal ofan interracial sexual relation-
ship highly offensive, and Alexander ac-
tually received threats for starring in the
production. In 1974, Erica Jong was
awarded a grant to finish "Fear of Fly-
ing," a novel of women's sexual experi-
ences. The success of the book marked
the beginning of Sen. Jesse Helms' (R-
N.C.) long crusade against the NEA.
But it wasn't until recently that the
NEA became so heavily scrutinized by
t'religious right. In 1989,two photogra-
phrs, Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres
Se rano, featured in NEA-funded exhib-
its;produced "obscene" and "offensive"
collections ofphotography. These highly
publicized incidents rapidly turned pub-
lic opinion against the organization, and
opponents like Helms quickly used the
instances as key examples of why the
NBA should be dissolved.
- an effort to regain public trust, the
NEA asked recipients of 1990 grants to
sigi anl anti-obscenity oath, a measure
tiat many artists viewed as a form of
censorship. The practice was found un-
co stitutional by the Supreme Court in
1993 and was discontinued. Still, some
atists worry about censorship when the
gbvernent involves itself in supporting
dloarts. Some critics of the NEA oppose

the endowment on the philosophy that
government has no role in the arts, but
officials at the NEA are quick to point out
that governments around the world have
talen an interest in art. (Actually, the U.S.
spends far less per capita on the arts than
dp other industrialized nations like
Canada, France, and Germany.) Still,
some artists feel the NEA's newfound
caution is a form of indirect government

s luck of the Irish with new concerto

tween the two, and for years encour-
aged Galway to commission a con-
certo from his Paris pal. "And finally
he did."
In 1990, thirty years after their initial
introduction, Bolcom and Galway met
in Philadelphia. "I hadn't seen him all
these years. He'd put on some weight
and so had I. He'd grown a beard and a
couple of wives, and so had I...,"
laughed Bolcom. "It was great to get

tongue," he said, "and I love playing an
e-flat minor scale." With these details
in mind, Bolcom began to write.
The result was "Lyric Concerto,"
which Galway premiered with the St.
Louis Symphony in 1993. The piece
begins with a movement titled "Lepre-
chaun." "It's like Jimmy," explained
Bolcom. "It sort ofjumps in, jumps out
... And the second movement sounds
like one of those corny Irish waltzes
from American songwriters in 1920,
which I contrast againstareal Irish tune
from county Galway."
In the third movement, a fragment of
the short piece written in 1960 resur-
faces. Galway had found the solo among
his belongings and faxed it the com-
poser, who interspersed it with Irish
tunes. And, at Galway's request, the
last movement became a rondo. "It's a
little, light, funny kind of rondo be-
cause Jimmy said 'I want a rondo!' So
I said, 'Okay, Jimmy, anything you
want,"' Bolcom laughed.
"Lyric concerto" is light and witty,
reflecting the flamboyant character of
Galway as well as the sprightliness of
the composer. Galway's lighthearted
approach to the flute, which colored
this work and others he has commis-
sioned, has made him a likable interna-
tional star whose recordings feature
everything from Mozart concertos to
the theme from "Beauty and the Beast."
"[Galway's] a showman, it's part of
his charm...," said Bolcom. "He's a
very generous person and I tried to give

him a piece that would give him a good
time so it would give other people a
good time, too."
Galway will perform "Lyric Con-
certo" with the DSO Thursday through
Sunday, and will participate in a Pre-
Concert Conversation at 7 p.m. on Fri-
day. Also on the program are works by
Mozart, Bizet and Debussy.
Bolcom, one of the most performed
contemporary composers, is a deserv-
ing member of this lineup and a rare
talent. At the ripe age 11, Bolcom
entered the University of Washington
as a student in composition and piano.
He has received numerous awards and
grants, and is also a well recorded
pianist whose complete recordings of
Gershwin's piano works was a
bestseller on the Nonesuch label.
Among his many releases, Bolcom
has issued 14 recordings with his wife,
mezzo-soprano Joan Morris. He has
taught composition at the University
of Michigan since 1973 and was made
Full Professor in 1983, six years after
receiving the University's esteemed
Henry Russell Award. In great de-
mand as a composer, Bolcom is busy
with commissions into the next cen-
If Bolcom's flute concerto enters the
standard repertoire, it may be played
for generations to come. In that sense,
the story of "Lyric Concerto" hasn't
ended, it's just started. The story has
begun happily. 'Ever after' may not be
far behind.

together. Same old Jimmy, and same
Galway proposed a "Celtic Concerto"
and, at another meeting in 1992, shared
some very specific wishes he had con-
cerning the commission. "Ah, there's a
little thing called the Celtic fall,"
Bolcom said, mimicking Galway's Irish
accent. The flutist sang a passage, three
descending notes and a descending fifth,
which Bolcom used as a motive in the
first movement. Galway had other re-
quests, too. "I love to do runs on flutter

University professor William Bolcom reunites with old friend and internationally
renowned flutist James Galway when the Irishman plays with the Detroit
Symphony Orchestra Thursday through Sunday.


control of the arts.
But the NEA has not always been
prudent when bestowing individual grants.
After Mapplethorpe and Serrano, the NEA
was again rocked by charges of funding
offensive work ofquestionablemerit. Last
year, Minneapolis performance artist Ron
Athney, who is HIV-positive, took paper
towels soaked in the blood of an HIV-
negative man, and hung them over his
audience. The result was a horrified up-
roar from the public which helped bring
about atwo percent cut in this year's NEA
Fighting for funds
These highly publicized events have
the NEA fighting for its life. However,
since the NEA gave its first grant to the
American Ballet Theater in 1965, only a
handful of NEA-funded projects have
been questioned. Out of over 100,000
NEA grants, only about 40 have been
Still, the NEA is used to being a
target of attack, and does try to defend
itselfagainst such arguments. The NEA
touts itself as one of the government's
most economically sound agencies. Its
pamphlet, "Six Myths About the NEA,"
boasts the following claims: "Every
dollar awarded by the NEA attracts $12
from state and local arts agencies, cor?
porations, foundations, businesses and
otherprivate entities. The not-for-profit
arts create $37 billion in economic ac-
tivity and support 1.3 millionjobs. They
also return $3.4 billion to the Federal
treasury through income taxes, 20 times
the budget of the NBA."
Many find it unfortunate that an or-
ganization which takes up a sliver of the
federal budget is forced to devote so
much energy to defending its existence.
But these days the NE A is also looking
for vocal support from all parts of the
nation. They will find plenty of support
here in Ann Arbor.
Sentences and songs
Ann Arbor has long been a haven for
artists, and local reaction to attacks on
the NEA has been fast and furious.
Professor Nicholas Delbanco, director

of the M.F.A. program in writing, has
been one ofthe most outspoken defend-
ers of the NEA. Early in what turned out
to be a very distinguished career,
Delbanco received two NEA grants (his
latest novel, "In the Name of Mercy" is
available from Warner Books).
"These agencies are not playthings of
the intellectual elite; they are voices in the
wilderness ... in areas beyond the reach
of commerce. And they feed a national
hungerand we will starve or eat junk food
without them. The Congress that sal-
vages 64 cents per citizen but spends
thousands of dollars to resuscitate Star
Wars is doing us no favor, none at all,"
Delbanco said.
A new University creative writing in-
structor, fiction author Jonis Agee, joins
Delbanco in the defense of the NEA.
Agee's latestbook, "A.38 Special and the
Broken Heart" was recently published by
Coffeehouse Press, which relies heavily
on NEA grants. Agee won an NEA grant
early in her career, and said that the award
was a turning point. An NEA grant is "a
form ofan artistic nod, because panels are
made up of nationally-known authors. It
tells you you are a serious writer, an artist.

What you're doing is worth doing," she
Agee's colleague in the English de-
partment, fiction writer Eileen Pollack,
recently won an NEA grant for fiction.
Pollack says the NEA grant is a major
turning point in her career. After three
near-sales fell through when three dif-
ferent publishing houses folded, Pol-
lack was discouraged. "There was a
new novel I wanted to start," she said,
"but I was too dispirited. ... My NEA
grant gave me the spirit to go on, to
begin the book, which I am just finish-
ing now."
Agee is "amazed by the notion that
art shouldn't be funded." She says hat
trend worries her. "It's almost a chal-
lenge to democracy," she said. "When
you want to control the way people
think, the first things you eliminate are
education and the arts."
Delbanco, Agee and Pollack are all
involved in efforts to save the endow-
ment. Still, despite the efforts of these
local authors and countless more across
the country, the arts are facing a crisis
of major proportions. With a Congress
intent on cutting the federal budget, the

NEA may become a sacrificial lamb.
But the attacks on the NEA have usu-
ally not been centered on deficit reduc-
tion. Instead, many critics of the NEA
seem driven to censor what some con-
servatives consider "assaults on family
In order to withstand the attacks, the
arts community has continued to try to
impress their message upon the Ameri-

can people: That the NEA is indeed a
worthwhile investment.
As Delbanco stated in a commentary
on WUOM, the defenders of the nation's
cultural environment must fight tooth and
nail on the efforts to crush the N EA:
"There must be those- be persistently,
insistently a legion ofthose-- whose cause
and special pleading is the sentence and
the song."

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Thursday, October 19
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