“blue cathedral” performance – Jennifer Higdon

And now we come to the first performance this season by the Pittsburgh
Symphony of a work of mine, “blue cathedral”. I thought I’d post a few
things here that you might not find in the program notes or in news
articles.

First of all, this is a tone poem…which is basically a poem of tones
(forget about words…I mean, isn’t music the international language?).
It is a very colorful piece, with lots of chiming sounds…I was thinking
of clocks and the passage of time when I was creating these textures.
There are several things that you can listen for…I’ve put 33 chimes in
here because my brother’s age (you’ll have to read the program notes to
figure out what my brother’s age has to do with this piece) was 33. The
way I created a sound to make a clock gonging was to create a prepared
piano part. The pianist inserts small screws in between the strings of
certain pitches (2 pitches) creating just enough pressure on the
strings to change the color of the tuning. Now, this is NOT SOMETHING
TO TRY AT HOME…it takes a certified stunt-expert to do this (I bet you
never knew there was so much training in studying piano, did you?);
however, I will tell you that the screws exert very little on the
strings, about a hundred times less pressure than the piano’s normal
action of the hammers striking the strings when played normally. And I
can’t claim any credit for coming up with this technique…composer John
Cage was doing it way before I was (he created these pieces for
prepared piano that make the entire piano sound like an Gamelan
ensemble).

You’ll also notice that there are flute and clarinet solos
galore…this is because I’m a flute player and my brother played
clarinet in band while we were in high school.

I’ve also created the sound of stars with a very special instrument, which makes an appearance at the end of the piece.

And some of the brass players get a chance to play wine glasses in this piece. I promise, it’s only water in those glasses.

Finally, I’ll let you in on a special secret: I put in my birthdate
and Andy’s birthdate (mine: 12-31; his: 7-13) in the piece in a very
exposed location in the piece. When you hear the performance, see if
you can figure out where this occurs. The first person that emails me
with the correct answer will get a CD containing “blue cathedral”
autographed specifically to you (let me know approximately where in the
piece…beginning, middle, or end and, what instruments you think are
playing the numbers). To verify that you were at one of the concerts,
I’ll have you send in your ticket to me in Philadelphia (this way, I
can guarantee that you haven’t bribed my cat, Beau, with a can of tuna
for the answer).

I’ll look forward to meeting some of you at the concert and hearing what you think of the piece.

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Oct 30