Minnesota premiere: New Music for Americas consortium commission
Jennifer Higdon's opera Cold Mountain is based on Charles Frazier's award-winning novel of the same name. It garnered sold out performances across the US, received two Grammy nominations and won the International Opera Award for best new opera. In cooperation with the League of American Orchestras, a consortium of 35 orchestras, including the Rochester Symphony, commissioned Higdon to compose a suite using musical themes from the opera to highlight "the emotional throes of love, war and the journey of a soldier making his way back to Cold Mountain." The Cold Mountain Suite received its first performance with the Delaware Symphony on September 23, 2022 and our performance will be giving the Minnesota premiere.
The composer writes:
"While creating this suite, it was a wonderful challenge to determine which music to feature in order to create a dynamic and engaging orchestral work. Because Cold Mountain is about love, war and death (imagine that in an opera!), there was a lot of dramatic music from which to pick. I chose various arias, duets and quintets, with the idea that they would be arranged not in story order, but in a manner to create the greatest contrast for the listener.
"The beginning and end of the suite come from the opening of Act 2 and the closing of Act 1—purely for its style of ramping up. It then quickly moves into Storm Music, followed by the quintet, I Should Be Crying; the duet Orion (which I calculated would need two weeks to write, but in an amazing fit of inspiration, came to me in one day—the very thing creative types dream about!); the fiddling duet Bless You Ruby; Ada's contemplative aria, I Feel Sorry For You; then music from the scene where Inman and Ada finally get together after four years of his being away at war; and finally to the music that ends Act 1 to close out the suite.
"After taking 28 months to write this opera, and having lived with the characters so deeply in my heart and soul, it is truly a privilege to share this music with you. Thank you for joining us on this journey through Cold Mountain." -- Jennifer Higdon
Pulitzer Prize and three-time Grammy-winner Jennifer Higdon (b. Brooklyn, NY, December 31, 1962) taught herself to play flute at the age of 15 and began formal musical studies at 18, with an even later start in composition at the age of 21. Despite these obstacles, Jennifer has become a major figure in contemporary Classical music. Her works represent a wide range of genres, from orchestral to chamber, to wind ensemble, as well as vocal, choral and opera. Her music has been hailed by Fanfare Magazine as having "the distinction of being at once complex, sophisticated but readily accessible emotionally," with the Times of London citing it as "…traditionally rooted, yet imbued with integrity and freshness." The League of American Orchestras reports that she is one of America's most frequently performed composers.
Higdon's list of commissioners is extensive and includes The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Chicago Symphony, The Atlanta Symphony, The Cleveland Orchestra, The Minnesota Orchestra, The Pittsburgh Symphony, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, as well such groups as the Tokyo String Quartet, the Lark Quartet, Eighth Blackbird, and the President's Own Marine Band. She has also written works for such artists as baritone Thomas Hampson, pianists Yuja Wang and Gary Graffman, violinists Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Jennifer Koh and Hilary Hahn. Her first opera, Cold Mountain, won the prestigious International Opera Award for Best World Premiere in 2016; the first American opera to do so in the award's history. Performances of Cold Mountain sold out its premiere run in Santa Fe, North Carolina, and Philadelphia (becoming the third highest selling opera in Opera Philadelphia's history).
Higdon received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto, with the committee citing the work as "a deeply engaging piece that combines flowing lyricism with dazzling virtuosity." She has also received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts & Letters, the Koussevitzky Foundation, the Pew Fellowship in the Arts, The Independence Foundation, the NEA, and ASCAP. As winner of the Van Cliburn Piano Competition's American Composers Invitational, Higdon's Secret & Glass Gardens was performed by the semi-finalists during the competition.
Higdon has been a featured composer at many festivals including Aspen, Tanglewood, Vail, Norfolk, Grand Teton, and Cabrillo. She has served as Composer-in-Residence with several orchestras, including the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Fort Worth Symphony. She was honored to serve as the Creative Director of the Boundless Series for the Cincinnati Symphony's 2012-13 season. During the 2016-17 and 2017-18 academic years Higdon served as the prestigious Barr Laureate Scholar at the University of Missouri Kansas City.
In 2018, Higdon received the Eddie Medora King Award from the University of Texas, Austin. That same year, she received the prestigious Nemmers Prize from Northwestern University which is awarded to contemporary classical composers of exceptional achievement who have significantly influenced the field of composition.
Higdon enjoys more than 200 performances a year of her works. Her orchestral work, Blue Cathedral, is one of the most performed contemporary orchestral works in the repertoire with more than 600 performances since its premiere in 2000.
Her works have been recorded on over 70 CDs. Higdon has won three Grammys in her career for Best Contemporary Classical Composition: first for her Percussion Concerto in 2010, in 2018 for her Viola Concerto and in 2020 for her Harp Concerto.
Dr. Higdon received a Bachelor's Degree in Music from Bowling Green State University, an Artist Diploma from The Curtis Institute of Music, and an M.A. and PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. She has been awarded honorary doctorates from the Hartt School and Bowling Green State University.
Dr. Higdon's music is published exclusively by Lawdon Press. For more information, visit jenniferhigdon.com.
-- Steven Amundson