Though his opera based on Arthur Miller's trenchant play "A View from the Bridge" received lavish productions when it was staged by the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Metropolitan Opera, William Bolcom is thrilled that the University of Texas' Butler School of Music asked for a smaller version with a chamber orchestra.

At 71, the American composer has seen his fair share of ups and downs. Large opera productions with big orchestras are grand, he says. But in a down economy, not every opera company can afford that.

"When Texas decided to commission a new chamber orchestration of the opera, I was overjoyed," says Bolcom by phone from his home in Ann Arbor, Mich., where he taught at the University of Michigan for 35 years. "This means more opera companies will have the chance to produce it."

The Butler School of Music will do just that April 23 and 25. The production of Bolcom's "A View from the Bridge" is one of several events the school is hosting in honor of the much-lauded composer as he receives UT's $25,000 Eddie Medora King Award for outstanding contributions in music composition.

Tonight the UT Symphony Orchestra pays tribute to Bolcom, and on Tuesday, the UT New Music Ensemble plays an all-Bolcom program with Bolcom and his wife, mezzo-soprano Joan Morris, performing a selection of cabaret songs.

UT will also take its production of "A View from the Bridge" to San Antonio on April 30, where it will be performed at the Empire Theatre.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Medal of Arts as well as two Grammy Awards, Bolcom has straddled popular and classical genres, writing operas, oratorios and symphonies, but also churning out popular musical fare.

Even in his more traditional classical compositions, Bolcom's known for juxtaposing unexpected styles, grabbing from a huge compendium of 20th century music: jazz, blues, Jewish klezmer music, '60s folk, country and western, Broadway, American standard songs.

Bolcom was key in instigating the 1970s revival of ragtime music and collaborated extensively with ragtime composer and pianist Eubie Blake. Bolcom's CD "The Complete Rags for Piano" (Albany Records) is one of the composer's best-selling.

Bolcom has even spread his talents to Hollywood: Bolcom wrote the soundtrack for John Turturro's film "Illuminata," and the composer collaborated with director Robert Altman in 2004 for "A Wedding," an operatic adaptation of Altman's 1984 film.

But Bolcom's polytonal style also references the profound developments in composition wrought in the last century — principally, atonality.

"I reserve the right to be as atonal as I want to be," Bolcom says.

His kind of eclectic approach and appreciation for popular music styles hasn't always made Bolcom celebrated with the prevalent critical or academic tides. But he brushes all that aside now.

"I wasn't out to influence any one, and I've never cared about that," he says.

Born in Seattle in 1938, Bolcom entered the University of Washington to study music at the precociously young age of 11. After further studies with influential and progressive French composer Darius Milhaud, Bolcom spent several years in the 1960s in Europe writing for the theater before returning to the U.S. and taking up the teaching position in Michigan.

Throughout his career, Bolcom has written a raft of cabaret songs, and he and his wife have performed in all manner of venues.

Tuesday, the pair will premiere a dozen super-short cabaret songs, all based on notes left by Bolcom's long-time late librettist Arnold Weinstein. "They're little one-liners, all based on aphoristic phrases like 'people change into what they are,'" says Bolcom. "Together they won't be more than five minutes, but they'll span a huge emotional and dramatic range. Ultimately, they are all inspired by the language."

"I think if there's a quintessential American style to (songs or operas), it's one that has a very strong theatrical component," he says. "You sing from where you come from."

jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699

UT Visiting Composer Series: William Bolcom

Bolcom's Spring Concerto for Oboe and Small Orchestra

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 28

Where: Bates Recital Hall, Music Building, UT campus

Cost: $5-$10

UT New Music Ensemble plays William Bolcom

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 30

Where: Bates Recital Hall, Music Building, UT campus

Cost: Free

'A View from the Bridge'

When: 7:30 April 23 and 25, April 30

Where: McCullough Theatre

Cost: $10-$20

Information: 471-5401, www.music.utexas.edu