Monday, June 01, 2009

Jennifer Higdon's Violin Concerto - in Baltimore & On-Line

When scouting around for a Philadelphia Orchestra concert to include in a tour to see the new Kimmel Center some years ago, one program that season jumped out at me – Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, a tried-and-true war-horse that was a specialty of the orchestra’s conductor, Woflgang Sawallisch; and a Concerto for Orchestra being given its world premiere by a composer I’d never heard of before, Jennifer Higdon. Familiarity & Curiosity on one program. So we chose this concert.

The glowing review in the Philadelphia Inquirer ecstatically detailed highlight after highlight in Ms. Higdon’s Concerto – in fact, the headline was “Concerto for Orchestra Debut Shimmers.” At the end, the critic, David Patrick Stearns, added as almost an afterthought, “The orchestra also played Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben.”

Since then, her works have been performed, commissioned and recorded far more quickly than is typical of most living composers.

For those concert-goers in the mid-state region who remember fairly recent performances of Jennifer Higdon’s music – “Blue Cathedral” and her Percussion Concerto with the Harrisburg Symphony and “river sings a song to trees” from CityScape with the Lancaster Symphony when she received the orchestra’s Composer’s Award in 2008 – there’s a special opportunity to hear one of her latest works, given its world premiere five months ago in February (read about it here). The Violin Concerto was written for Hilary Hahn who’ll be playing it with her hometown orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony, this week with performances Thursday & Friday nights and Sunday afternoon at the Meyerhoff Concert Hall and on Saturday night at the Strathmore Center.

For those (like me) unable to make any of these performances, this past week’s concerts with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic (its European premiere) will be broadcast on-line today on BBC-3. The broadcast is scheduled at 19:00 GMT which I presume translates into 3:00pm EDT (GMT does not believe in saving daylight). [added later: SO I WAS MIGHTILY SURPRISED, not to mention annoyed, to go to the BBC website and discover that it had actually begun at 2:00pm EDT after all -- aaargh...]

After today’s broadcast, the recording of the concert will still be available on-demand for the next 7 days.

Further good news: the Liverpool performance was recorded the next day for eventual release on the Deutsche Gramophone label!

Jennifer Higdon’s music is back on mid-state programs for at least two performances, both in January 2010. She’ll be here with the Cypress Quartet when they play her “Impressions” on January 23rd for Market Square Concerts. The Harrisburg Symphony will perform “SkyLine” from CityScape on their concert a week later, January 30th-31st. Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (with soloist Augustin Hadelich returning to Harrisburg) will be on that program as well.

Imagine if you had a chance to hear Beethoven talking (or even writing) about how he wrote his Violin Concerto for Franz Clement who gave it its premiere (preferably recorded before the concert which was something of a disaster: it took another generation before this concerto became anything near the staple in the repertoire it is today). Hilary Hahn, who was a student of Jennifer Higdon’s at Curtis and who commissioned the concerto, interviewed her in this video available on (where else?) YouTube:

You can also listen to an NPR interview from Weekend Edition on May 23rd with conductor Marin Alsop talking with Jennifer about this week’s concerts in Baltimore.

Here are some other reviews and comments about the new concerto following its premiere: Mary Ellen Hutton blogging in Cincinnati and James Tobin at, including this Portland OR interview by James Bash for The Gathering Note with Jennifer about creativity in general and this segment from a PBS documentary called “Being Creative in Philadelphia.”

- Dr. Dick

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