Westmont Magazine CD, Concert Tour Create Double Celebration
Phil Ficsor took an interest in the music of William Bolcom as a teenager. During the summer of 1991, the violinist prepared to play in a national competition in upstate New York. He had to choose between two pieces by contemporary American com-posers: Aaron Copland’s violin sonata or Bolcom’s “Second Sonata.” Phil’s music teacher immediately ruled out Bolcom’s piece as “too challenging.”
“Ever since that time, I’ve been interested in the piece that was ‘too challenging,’” Phil says. As a student at the Hans Richter Conservatory of Music in Hungary, Phil finally heard Bolcom’s “Second Sonata,” “Duo Fantasy” and “Graceful Ghost” on a cassette tape. “They grew to have a very special place in my heart,” he says.
Continuing his violin studies at the University of Michigan, Phil earned a master’s degree at Yale University and a doctorate in violin performance from Boston University.
At Yale, he met pianist Constantine Finehouse, and the two formed American Double in 2001. They kick off a five-month, nationwide tour in October in conjunction with the release of their CD, “The Bolcom Project” (see dates at left). The CD is the first recording of Bolcom’s complete works for violin and piano, including four world premiere offerings.
Bolcom, an American composer and pianist, has received the Pulitzer Prize, three Grammy Awards and the National Medal of Arts. A professor of music composition at the University of Michigan, he is best known for his three-hour setting of William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and of Experience,” arguably the defining piece of post-modern music. Next year he celebrates his 70th birthday.
Phil and Constantine appreciate the rare privilege of working closely with Bolcom during six coaching sessions. The composer even plans to attend some of their concerts and introduce several pieces.
“It’s important to spend that much time with the composer so you know you’re not making errors in interpretive judgment,” Phil says. “Since interpretation is a subjective process, it’s good to check with the source to make sure you’re on the right track.”
Bolcom has endorsed the recordings enthusiastically, calling them “great benchmarks for other performers, but also great performances on their own merits.” He praised the American Double as “first-rate musicians in every way, balancing style and taste impeccably.”
Phil hopes the concerts and CD will promote greater appreciation for Bolcom’s approachable music among people outside the classical music world. “Bolcom’s works are special because the music is effective,” he says. “While not entirely easy to listen to all the time, the composer seems to have a sense of how far he can push the audience before they start to rebel against the dissonance. Then, he changes the style to something entirely different. In this way he maintains the interest of the listeners and the musicians.”
Phil joined the Westmont music faculty in 2006 and gives private lessons to the growing number of string players in addition to playing in college concerts.