…and now for something different… – Jennifer Higdon

Pittsburgh audiences have now had a chance to hear 2 different types of
works from my repertoire:  “blue cathedral” and the “Trombone
Concerto”…both of which are quite different in character and in
language.  Each piece, however, has a very different story and serves
very different purposes for the players, the audience, and for the computer

In “blue cathedral”, which is a tone poem, a lyrical feel
predominated along with a sense of calm. This piece has a slow build
that grows over a 9-minute period before coming to a climax, and then
slowly making its way back to calm. There were unusual color elements
in this piece (the crystal glasses and Chinese bells), as well as lots
of obvious melodic development. I think it’s safe to say that this
piece tended to have a brighter, more positive feel to it.

With the “Trombone Concerto”, the focus was the soloist, Pete
Sullivan
, at the front of the stage. The bold, heroic sound of the
trombone dictated certain elements be present in this piece. In
addition, since this is a concerto, there was the additional
requirement of a certain amount of virtuosity to show both Pete’s
abilities as a first-class performer, and to share with the audience
the variety of things that the trombone is capable of doing (one
section of the music used a lot of fast, repetitive tonguing, because
it sounds so great on this instrument). Being a powerful instrument, I
wanted certain gestures to be extremely bold, as this is not an
instrument that comes across as timid, in any manner. It’s also an
instrument that one might not assume has the ability to fly around on a
lot of notes in a very short amount of time, but that assumption is
incorrect…the trombone is capable of real speed (for those of you who
heard Pete, this was very obvious).

In terms of these two works, one piece is a memorial to a brother
who has passed on; the other is a tribute to a superb player of great
skill; different scenarios; different requirements for the flavor of
the pieces.

The next work that Pittsburgh audiences will hear in April is again,
very different from the previous two works. "Concerto for Orchestra” (click here for video of Jennifer talking about Concerto for Orchestra)
is, like the “Trombone Concerto”, a very energetic work that shows off,
not a soloist at the front of the stage, but the entire orchestra. So
that means there are lots of solos within the orchestra, and many
places where the entire ensemble gets a good workout. Certain aspects
of the orchestra will be focused upon: there is an entire movement that
is just strings, and one movement that is exclusively the domain of the
percussion and keyboard instruments. One movement is full of solos and
section solos (which means the principal flute will play a solo and
then be joined by the other 2 flute players). The outer movements (I
and V) highlight the orchestra as a whole, but the first movement is
different in that it has small areas where the wind and brass sections
are featured by themselves (in this movement I didn’t have the strings
do this, because the second movement is all strings, all the time). In
the final movement everyone plays in what is actually an
ever-accelerating romp to the final bar. This work is a perfect
showcase for The Pittsburgh Symphony, a vast display of extraordinary
talent, highlighted by the individual players and the group as a whole.

I am very fortunate as a composer to be living in this time period
because I have many more options, in terms of musical language, than my
predecessors. And the performers that now work in the orchestral world
are much better players than those who premiered and performed the
works of Beethoven, Mozart and Mahler. Which means, in the creation of
music, the possibilities of what an orchestra can do are greater; it’s
a challenge, because it means the composer has to make more choices,
but it also means I can change aspects of my language to reflect the
occasion, the mood or the emotion of a piece. It’s absolutely the best
time to be a composer, and the orchestra is a perfect place to
highlight that.

Leave a Reply

Apr 9