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Three Questions Before the First Night, by Carson Cooman

Jennifer Higdon -- Trombone Concerto

Composer Jennifer Higdon (born 1962) is one of the most noted composers in the American musical scene today. Her colorful, energetic, and attractive music has won her countless fans among both audiences and performers. She has been commissioned and performed by nearly every major American orchestra as well as many leading soloists and ensembles.

Her orchestral work blue cathedral was reported by the American Symphony Orchestra League as the most performed contemporary orchestral piece in the United States, having received over 50 performances in the 2004-05 season alone.

Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony released a full CD of her orchestral music in 2002 on the Telarc label which has been sold and broadcast widely, and was nominated for four Grammy awards.

Jennifer Higdon
Jennifer Higdon

Higdon also trained and has performed as a professional flutist. She holds degrees from Bowling Green State University, the Curtis Institute of Music, and the University of Pennsylvania, and has studied composition with Ned Rorem and George Crumb. She is currently on the composition faculty of the Curtis Institute.

She is currently 'Composer of the Year' with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, who has commissioned her Trombone Concerto for principal trombonist Peter Sullivan. Sullivan and the PSO, under the direction of conductor Andrew Davis, will lead the world première performances of the work on 16, 17, and 18 February 2006 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

OneCarson Cooman: In recent times you've been writing a number of concerti (with recent ones for oboe, percussion, voice, and now trombone), and I know you have some more ahead. Whereas you had spent the previous years focused on orchestral works without soloists. Was it just coincidence that has clustered these projects together like this?

Jennifer Higdon: It really is coincidence -- just how the commissions have come up. However, it's a really nice change from doing the purely orchestral works. It's a very different way to write because you are focusing so much on a soloist and instrument.

It also seems these days that when orchestras do commission a piece of new music, they lean towards commissioning a concerto -- either to feature one of their own principals or an outside soloist.

TwoCC: This concerto is being premièred as part of your season as 'Composer of the Year' for the Pittsburgh Symphony. How do you feel about this yearly program of the orchestra's?

JH: It's quite a unique and ingenious idea. It's a great thing to do multiple works by a composer over the course of a single season. One work is not enough for an audience. The repetition of a composer's language helps everybody. It's a pretty amazing setup that they are able to do that because it gives everybody a chance to get to know each other.

The Pittsburgh Symphony actually commissioned me to write the trombone concerto back in 2002, long before the 'Composer of the Year' appointment had ever been discussed. Then, over time, it worked out to have the two things coincide.

ThreeCC: How did you prepare or approach the writing for the solo trombone?

JH: Because of schedules, I didn't really get to talk or work at all with the soloist, Peter Sullivan, before I began the piece. I talked to people about his playing, however, and many described how beautiful and lyrical it was. That gave me the idea for including some of that sort of music in the piece.

I also listened to as much trombone concerto and sonata literature as I could -- to really try and get a feel for it. It's my first trombone piece and my first piece really with a solo brass part.

Copyright © 17 January 2006 Carson P Cooman, Rochester, NY, USA





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