Joan Morris and William Bolcom | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Joan Morris and William Bolcom


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While other singer-pianist teams may be more effective and affecting with European song, Joan Morris and William Bolcom have no peers in the American arena. Now 25 years into their partnership, they long ago mastered the art of give-and-take--they're so in the groove that each number is dispatched as effortlessly as a Michael Jordan fadeaway and with the quiet intimacy of a late night with longtime friends. Not surprisingly the two are married, but each has an identity away from their cabaret collaboration: Morris, a classically trained mezzo-soprano and actress, has sung in operas and with the likes of the Boston Pops. Even when she's singing pop, Morris never comes across like she's slumming, as Kiri Te Kanewa does in West Side Story; and unlike Dawn Upshaw, who was lifted above her limitations by the superb pianist Richard Goode in a recent recital, Morris is every bit her accompanist's equal. That's saying something, too, since Bolcom is easily one of the most distinctive composers of his generation. A student of Darius Milhaud, he experimented with a variety of modernist idioms and techniques before settling into a style of his own--one that's largely tonal, eclectic and yet dramatically on the mark. At its best, his work brings to mind a mellower Stravinsky or a less playful Milhaud. His 1992 commission for the Lyric Opera, McTeague, while not altogether satisfying structurally, showcases his knack for the American vernacular; he's writing another opera for the Lyric now, an adaptation of Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge. At this Ravinia concert, the couple will take on two early-20th-century American masters--one, Gershwin, a household name; the other, Vincent Youmans, ripe for rediscovery. A product of Tin Pan Alley, Youmans is best remembered for the musical No, No, Nanette, which introduced "Tea for Two" to the world. Songs by Bolcom are promised as encores. Sunday, 8 PM, Martin Theatre, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Joan Morris uncredited photo/ William Bolcom photo by Pach Bros..

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