Diary Entry #1-Trom. Concerto – Jennifer Higdon

The following entries are related to the composition of "Trombone
Concerto", the work commissioned for Peter Sullivan by the orchestra
(premiere set for February). The following entries will be listed by
date and hopefully will give some insight into what I as a composer
think while writing a new work, from start to finish….

June 22, 2005
I am starting sketches for the concerto that I
will be writing for Peter Sullivan. I am in my studio at the Civitella
Ranieri Foundation in Umbertide, Italy. I have been working for many
months on a percussion concerto. Before the percussion concerto, I
completed an oboe concerto, so I definitely have concertos on the
brain. The percussion concerto is just about complete as of the day
that I am starting my sketches for the Pittsburgh piece. It’s a bit
unusual for a composer to begin a piece of such size while completing
another work. But I figure, there are a lot of decisions to make before
I begin, so why not go ahead and start thinking about it….after all, I
am not obligated to keep any of the ideas that I come up with at this
time if I don’t feel they fit.

One of the things I am wrestling with is how to challenge myself to
continue to grow compositionally, so rather than do the same old stuff,
I constantly ask myself what I want to focus on in a composition….is
there anything that I should think about altering in the harmonic
language? Should rhythmic interplay be different? Should I focus on
several other instruments in the orchestra itself? The last 2 works had
a heavy emphasis on chordal motion (as if playing chords on the piano),
so I think I should focus more on contrapuntal lines (these are single
lines that each instrument plays…they don’t necessarily form chords;
they’re just a bunch of lines).

And should I change the colors used in this piece? I often imagine
[while composing] that I might be creating a bunch of paintings in
blues and yellows and now I decide whether I want to mix in some darker
colors, like gray, brown and black. I will eventually come to a mixture
of notes in the harmony that sounds logical within the framework of the
piece, but I need to vary the harmonic colors used to keep it
interesting. The oboe concerto that I completed during last Spring is a
brightly-hued work. The newly completed percussion concerto is a real
mix of colors, light and dark. So I am wondering if I should create a
darker world for the trombone concerto. It will be interesting, after
completing the work, to go back and see what the end result is compared
to my original thoughts.

I also have to decide what kind of a role the solo trombone will
play in contrast to the orchestra. For an orchestra like Pittsburgh,
which plays at an extremely high level of musicianship, a composer can
dream up all sorts of things, but one of the important things to keep
in mind is that the soloist must not feel like he has to push really
hard on the instrument to be heard…the orchestra must be a good partner
for this dance, and it’s my job to make it so.

The first thing that I know for sure is that Pete Sullivan is famous
for his wonderful tone (I hope I am not embarrassing you here, Pete). I
cannot begin to tell you how many people have said something about his
tone. So I have known from the beginning that I wanted to write a work
with a lot of lyricism for the soloist. That’s the first decision of
about a million that will have to be made.

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Oct 1