4/16/10

Composer of the Day! - Pulitzer Prize Edition

In honor of the recent announcement of her Pulitzer Prize for Music, today's Composer of the Day is Jennifer Higdon (b. December 31, 1962).

Higdon is a highly visible American composer whose music seems to have shown up in every major orchestra's programming in the past few years. Actually, according to the League of American Resources (a fun resource if you hadn't visited their site before), Jennifer's Higdon's blue cathedral (easily her most famous work) was the most performed contemporary work in America. She also had more scheduled performances than John Williams, who wrote the music for popular films like Always and SpaceCamp! The only living composers with more total performances were John Adams and John Corigliano.

Her music is largely tonal, and is fairly representative of a neoromantic style. Her propensity for highly charged dynamics and textures, supported by a wonderful variety of orchestral colors are also likely responsible for her success with audiences.

As already mentioned, her most famous work is blue cathedral (1999), which was composed as a monument to her younger brother who had recently died of cancer. Listen to it here:




The Pulitzer Prize was awarded for her Violin Concerto, commissioned for superstar violinist Hilary Hahn and premiered in February 2009 by the Indianapolis Symphony. The Pulitzer announcement (which is already cited on Wikipedia) lauded the work as "a deeply engaging piece that combines flowing lyricism with dazzling virtuosity." David Patrick Stearns, of the Philadelphia Inquirer (Higdon's hometown paper), had this highly positive, yet cryptic remark that the soloist's high violin sounds were "colored lights flashing out of darkness with playful, peekaboo randomness."

You can listen to Hilary Hahn and Jennifer Higdon talk about the composition of the piece here:


Higdon is known primarily for her orchestral works and has a number of often performed works, which include her Concerto for Orchestra, City Scape, Concerto 4-3, and Percussion Concerto (which, proving this must truly be the Year of Higdon, won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition a couple of months ago). All of these have been recorded and are worth a listen.

figure cd: Very nice recording of Higdon's music.

And you can listen to clips of most of her compositions at her website. Good stuff, to say the least.

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And, while I happen to personally enjoy her music and am enthusiastically recommending her in this post, I do want to leave you with this rather amusing criticism she received from Rowena Smith, of The Guardian, referring to blue cathedral:

"In terms of content, it is pure new-age fluff; undemanding, unadventurous tonality dressed up as a quasi-mystical experience by the addition of bells and chimes."

Although I disagree...that's still very funny.

4 comments:

Empiricus said...

Runner up Fred Lerdahl's "String Quartet No. 3" (Really, there were two others?) was described as "a remarkable work that displays impeccable technical facility and palpable emotion."

Not palpable enough, I suppose.

And by the way, Gustav, I become incontinent whenever exposed to that many rolled-cymbal crescendos. They're something disturbingly relaxing about them that makes evacuation impossible to hold hold back.

Empiricus said...

Ahem. "There is."

Sator Arepo said...

Rowena Smith's assessment made me lol. Heh.

George said...

"...John Williams, who wrote the music for popular films like Always and SpaceCamp!"

This is easily the greatest John Williams tag line I have ever read.