Now in the fifth year of a six-year plan, the program will also include premieres this season of Quartets by Bernard Rands and Joseph Castaldo. It has produced works by Richard Wernick, Robert Capanna, George Rochberg, Timothy Greatbatch, Philip Maneval and Tina Davidson. Next year, it will offer premieres by Rands, Jan Kryzwicki and Maurice Wright.
"I was lucky," Higdon said a few days before the premiere. "Philip (Maneval, manager of the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society concert series) had heard a trio I had written while I was at Penn. He liked it and asked me for other things that he could show the ensembles."
Once the Windham players had agreed to perform Voices, Higdon started the work in August and finished it as a Christmas present. "I had known the players in the quartet from our work together in the Penn Contemporary Players," Higdon said. "I knew their playing and could hear them as I wrote. And since I knew them, it was easy to consult with them as the work progressed and was rehearsed."
Writing a string quartet is serious business, composers say. They have the specter of Beethoven looming.
"I was never daunted by the idea of writing a quartet," Higdon said. ''This is actually my second. I'm just proud to contribute to the literature. The joy of writing for a quartet is in exploiting the strings. They can do so much it's a challenge to use them effectively."
One thing has led to another. A solo flute work by Higdon was premiered in New York last month, and another will be played at the flute convention in 1995. She is in the discussion stage with a saxophone quartet in Wisconsin, and her work named Black Swan was played by a wind ensemble in Ohio. The Anna Crusis Women's Choir will sing a work of hers here in June.
The Windham Quartet members say they have enjoyed preparing Higdon's piece. The three movements are titled "Blitz," "Soft Enlacing" and "Grace."
"Jennifer told us we could make what we wanted of the title 'Grace,' " said cellist Wilhelmina Smith. Actually (violinist) Ivan Chan has a sister named Grace, so maybe that's what it's about," she added with a laugh.
The Windham Quartet was formed in 1992 at the Marlboro Festival in Vermont and took its name from the town in which the festival takes place. All four - violinists Chan and Naomi Katz, violist Hsin-Yun Huang and Smith - had worked together at the Curtis Institute.
In addition to the Higdon premiere, the ensemble will play Brahms' Quartet in A minor and Shostakovich's Piano Quintet with pianist Ignat Solzhenitsyn.
If You Go
* The Windham Quartet will perform at 8 p.m. tomorrow at the Convention Center recital hall, 13th and Cherry Streets. Tickets are $16. Phone: 215-569-8587.