Jennifer Higdon at the 21C Festival

Jennifer Higdon at the 21C Festival

I spoke with American composer Jennifer Higdon for DailyXtra, and the result is now online.

A couple of things from my notes that did not make it due to word count constraints:

The composing process depends on what musical form she’s working on. For concertos, she starts from the solo instrument. “For example, the violin line in the violin concerto, and then you add the ‘short score’. As I’m writing, I often make notations how I’m going to orchestrate it.” The chamber quartet pieces she inputs directly into the four staves, with no shorthand. She is currently working on her first operatic work, to premiere in Santa Fe Opera in 2015, the complete score for which will have 13-15 staves. “It’s a fairly laborious process. You might work for eight hours and you might write 15 seconds of music—that’s actually a good day.”

“I love coming to Toronto. The Violin Concerto piece that the TSO co-commissioned changed my life, as it went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. I’ve been there with my Percussion Concerto… then at the New Creations Festival with “On a Wire”. I always have a lot of fun when I come to Toronto.”

On remaining open to the suggestions from the musicians premiering her work: “I always listen to the feedback. Which doesn’t mean I always heed all the requests. But it’s always interesting to hear what they’re suggesting because it’s possible they may know a better way to express something and it may be that an instrument works better doing a different kind of gesture… So I always try to stay open.”

Does she ever listen to music  for pleasure? “Never ever! Because I hear so much of it; every weekend I have performances, I’m always on the road, I work on my music so much and then hear it performed, and it’s way more enough than I should have to hear. There’s no escaping it…so what I have to do is listen to the other kind of music as a kind of release (like rock, for example) because otherwise I’d go mad!”


May 24, 2014

8:00pm concert; 7:15pm pre-concert talk


Joshua Hopkins, baritone

Marc-André Hamelin, piano

Pacifica Quartet

John Cage: The Perilous Night
Jennifer Higdon: Dooryard Bloom [Canadian Premiere]
Leo Ornstein: Piano Quintet



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