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Jennifer Higdon's Upbeat and Celebratory Viola Concerto

Courtesy of the artist
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.

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

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.