NEW YORK — WILLIAM BOLCOM'S eclectic musical style reaches a bracing acme in his huge "Songs of Innocence and of Experience," composed mainly between 1973-1982. It sets to music the 46 William Blake poems in the so-called standard edition of the two collections Blake illustrated, engraved, and published himself in the early 1800s.
Leonard Slatkin, long a champion of new American music in general and Bolcom's music in specific, performed the long work - three hours including one moderate intermission - in St. Louis Nov. 12 and 13, and in Carnegie Hall Nov. 21.
Bolcom had no fixed agenda in setting the poems, other than elucidating the texts and refusing to be boring or too-consistently predictable. Because he can dart from Bolcom, to Mahler, to Hindemith, to rock, to gospel, to Berg, to Broadway, he never does the expected. At times the music feels like a revival meeting, at other times, it conveys a message of darkest despair.
The St. Louis Symphony played magnificently, as did the huge cast of soloists and choruses.
Slatkin conducted it as a man possessed, and the audience rose to cheer him and Bolcom with the sort of ovations given only to Solti, Karajan, and Bernstein in this hall.