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Arts Desk

Jennifer Higdon's Upbeat and Celebratory Viola Concerto

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Courtesy of the artist
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Composer Jennifer Higdon

Pulitzer- and Grammy-award winning composer Jennifer Higdon has written for many different instruments, and now has a new concerto for viola. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, with each composition, she explores new musical territory.

Susan Lewis: Jennifer Higdon wrote her Violin Concerto for Hillary Hahn, and a Blue Grass concerto for the musicians of Time for Three – one right after the other. Just one example of how varied her work is.

Jennifer Higdon:  The pieces are extraordinarily different. The performers are different. I try to tailor it. But for me, in essence, its about communicating.

SL: Her viola concerto came about when The Library of Congress asked her to work on a piece for Curtis President Roberto Diaz.

JH: ...who is a phenomenal violist...and it went from me writing a concerto for Roberto and like six instruments...it blossomed immediately to a chamber orchestra.

SL: Higdon dove into scores of viola concerti to see what other composers had done with the form.

JH: I was struck that so many of them were kind of dark. It became obvious to me I needed to try to make a turn different from other people. I worked on writing a concerto that has American rhythms, that sounds up and positive in a celebratory fashion.

SL: Higdon finds music to be a way to navigate life.

JH: Writing it, listening to it, performing it, conducting it, coaching it. There is something about the universal language that we share. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like it. For me, it’s the reason the world exists.

SL: Higdon’s Viola Concerto was premiered in March, 2015 in Washington D.C. with soloist Roberto Diaz and the Curtis Chamber Orchestra.

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Listen to Jennifer Higdon talk with WRTI's Susan Lewis about her approach to her viola concerto and other works.