Higdon's in hot demand

Posted: November 25, 2005

Every composer dreams of having works performed and having the world's most acclaimed artists request new pieces.

Local composer Jennifer Higdon has achieved that pinnacle, with commissions into the next decade and inspiration apparently coming without pause. Her moving "blue cathedral," written after the sudden death of her younger brother Andrew Blue Higdon seven years ago, has become the most frequently performed orchestral work by an American composer.

In recent weeks, her music has been played by Orchestra 2001 and in the Philadelphia Orchestra's chamber music series. This weekend, she'll hear the world premiere of her Percussion Concerto, commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra and featuring British percussionist Colin Currie as soloist.

I met Higdon at a coffee house near her Center City apartment, where we chatted over enormous bowls of hot chocolate.

Q: How did the Percussion Concerto commission come about?

A: I'm not really sure, although the orchestra intended to use Colin as a soloist. I met him in England, and somehow it all worked out. He loves marimba, and there's a place where the vibraphone is both bowed and played with a mallet that's very virtuosic.

Q: How much of a challenge is it to write for a vast range of instruments?

A: It's fascinating to learn how to blend non-pitched and pitched instruments. I made substantial sketches and sent them to Colin, and it has turned out to be a full 25-minute concerto.

Q: How much time do you spend composing?

A: At least four to six hours a day, every day - weekends, in hotel rooms.

Q: What pieces are you working on now?

A: I just finished an Oboe Concerto for the Pittsburgh Symphony, where I'm in residency this season. I'm working on a violin sonata for Jennifer Koh, a percussion work for the New England Conservatory, and a Violin Concerto for Hilary Hahn. There's a Piano Concerto years off for Lang Lang, too.

Q: Do you turn down many commissions?

A: Oh, yes, you have to, because there's a limit to what you can do well.

But I just got a request to write my Sixth String Quartet, which I'm going to begin as soon as [this interview] is done, by the Tokyo String Quartet.

Now, you can't turn down the Tokyo Quartet! *

Send e-mail to dinardt@phillynews.com

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