REVIEWS OF NON-ORCHESTRAL WORKS (listed alphabetically)
"After the Strauss, they presented a new cycle by Jennifer Higdon, one of America's leading composers, written for Hampson. Higdon's language is tonal, colorful, and individual, a pattern increasingly heard in 21st-century composers. The cycle is called Civil Words, with texts from five sources during the Civil War. It is a beautiful, moving work, surely destined to become a regular in this repertoire."
—Palm Beach Daily News"...Higdon has written a fine piece with a spicy touch of chromaticism seasoning the homespun melodies."
—Miami Herald"He is to be commended for introducing Jennifer Higdon's solemn new cycle "Civil Words," which sets texts from the Civil War, a period this composer is exploring in a coming opera based on the novel "Cold Mountain." The pianist (here Wolfram Rieger) keeps returning to a haunting motif, muting a string while playing it, giving a somberly plucked effect. The vocal lines hover eloquently between conversation and melody."
—New York Times"In Civil Words, Higdon shows admiral skill in crafting her music to her well-chosen texts."
—Chicago Classical Review
"...we heard the latest in rigorously crafted, audience-friendly classical music: the world premiere of 'Dark Wood'... it satisfies on several levels. An edgy piano part creates the cool, urban sounds of a movie detective's theme song-perhaps a nod to popular culture. The dark woody sound of the bassoon rises out of the sonic tapestry. Never dull, the work tautly tells a story, with broad resolution near the end. Higdon's imaginative music is rapidly gaining popularity."
"['DASH']... speedy, headlong, exhilarating music."
—The Washington Post"Jennifer Higdon is first up [on the Verdhr Trio's recording International Connections]. Her 'DASH' is aptly titled, a four-and-a-half sprint of scale passages, fast repeated phrases, and rapidly evolving textures. Even when the activity lets up for a breather, a sense of urgency remains - achieved through the employment of 'off-beat' accents. Higdon's orchestral music has been memorably recorded by the Atlanta SO, and in this exhilirating trio she again demonstrates why is regarded as one of the most exciting young composers in the US."
— Fanfare Magazine
Deep in the Night
"For my tastes, the most memorable score was 'Deep In The Night,' written and composed by Jennifer Higdon.... [I]mpressive originality, in a chromatic yet touching musical idiom that beautifully made use of the range of the human voice."
—Chestnut Hill Local (Philadelphia, PA)"Philadelphia has long boasted many internationally acclaimed composers as residents, not the least of whom is Jennifer Higdon. Not only is she on the faculty at the Curtis Institute of Music, she is now composer-in-residence for the [Philadelphia] Singers, for whom she composed 'Deep in the Night' in 1997 and which was reprised at these concerts. It's a haunting score for unaccompanied choir set to poetry written by the composer. Its harmonic idiom is mildly yet meaningfully chromatic. Its most telling attribute is its unabashed lyricism. It sings!"
—Chestnut Hill Local (Philadelphia, PA)
"The Philadelphia composer's introspective view [in the first movement] is transparent with melodic lines that gradually evolve. The style and mood inevitably evoke French atmospheres, but with a determined and concise way of completing core musical ideas. The music flows while seeming motionless, and the interplay of clarinet with the other instruments broadened the color range of each.
"The second part reached for explosive moments ... yet the composer found gestures in each instrument to identify the work instantly as American."
—The Philadelphia Inquirer"Each instrument in Light Refracted, [Higdon's] two-movement quintet for clarinet, violin, viola, cello, and piano that opened the [2003 Tanglewood Contemporary Music] Festival, is scored in its own idiom. Familiar melodic and harmonic structures gives the ear a comfort base from which to absorb the new. The five instruments play together like good children, sharing prominence, running around whole-tone scales, and at the end, plopping down on a lazy D-major chord."
—American Record Guide
O magnum mysterium
"Jennifer Higdon has become one of the most sought-after up-and-coming composers in America. She has responded to that position as well as her growing acclaim by composing music that is both challenging and accessible. Her 'O magnum mysterium' is a clever setting in both Latin and English of the traditional text that marvels at the birth of the Saviour ... the music is harmonically original yet compellingly comprehensible, perhaps because it is so idiomatically written for both the choir and its small instrumental accompaniment."
—Main Line Times (Delaware and Montgomery County, PA)
"...the first movement - the yellow - was a thing of rare beauty."
—The New York Sun (New York City, NY)"Jennifer Higdon's new 'Piano Trio'... is beautiful music in the traditional sense, likable on first hearing, yet with a decidedly modern bent. Its sound is full and expansive, at times even reaching the sonic dimensions of Brahms, yet it retains a buoyancy that makes it happily transparent; even in its most forceful moments all three instruments speak with a special brilliance."
A Quiet Moment
"The highlight of the evening was a performance of [a commissioned work] from composer Jennifer Higdon, sung by the chorus's 12-member Potomac Fever ensemble... 'A Quiet Moment' unfolded with a rare mix of anguish and serenity."
—The Washington Post
"This piece ['rapid.fire'] is an impressive tour-de-force of uncompromising violence. Frenentic and bewildering, it stands as one of the best solo flute works I have heard..."
—Sequenza 21"The most captivating and original piece of the day was Jennifer Higdon's 'rapid.fire,' a pungent soliloquy fueled by a nonstop barrage of flute effects that turned a musical instrument into a dynamo."
—The Washington Post"I started listening... one minute later I had my first reaction. 'Wow,' I said aloud, 'what a player.' The minute after that I had my second reaction. 'Wow,' I said out loud again, 'what a piece!' 'Rapid.fire' gives no quarter, takes no prisoners. This got me worried. The rest of the disc couldn't be this good, could it? Well, the rest of the disc showed Jennifer Higdon to be a composer of breadth as well as talent... Anyone with two ears and a cerebral cortex between them that listens to 'rapid.fire' will take the composer Jennifer Higdon very seriously."
running the edgE
"Jennifer Higdon, who, from what I have heard of several works by now, seems to be constructing one of the more impressive bodies of modern flute literature, contributes a racing essay for two flutes and piano [running the edgE] full of pointilistic energy and propulsive ostinatos."
"...The piece ['Short Stories'] grabbed the audience, judging from the applause between movements."
—The New Music Connoisseur
Sonata for Viola and Piano
"The 'Sonata for Viola and Piano' is in two movements and is the other of the two longer pieces on this recording. The sonata reveals itself in waves of unfolding dramatic gestures, in a manner that is unforced, lyrical and a natural expression of the material itself. It should be a welcome addition to the repertoire for any violist...."
—Composer USA National Journal
"This is a gorgeous work, and should be in the repertory of every violist, and probably one day will be."
"The choral songs offered a fusion of the inevitable with the unusual, a sense of boundaries being criss-crossed between old and new. The transformation tour de force, however, comes at 'Southern Grace's' conclusion; Higdon has taken nearly everyone's favorite, 'Amazing Grace,' and amid cradle-rocking open intervals sung by the chorus, allows a contralto to summon attention to snatches of the tune before whirling its elements into a winsome chorale... There was an emotion palpable that appeared to move the house...."
—The Philadephia Inquirer
"...Jennifer Higdon's shorter work 'Steeley Pause' for four flutes, described as an 'explosion coming out of the gate' offered a rollercoaster ride of cascading runs that was a highlight of the evening."
— Winnipeg Free Press (Winnipeg, MB, Canada)"While contemporary music has been accused of being uncommunicative, Higdon's 'Steeley Pause' dispels that charge immediately and is a welcome addition to the repertoire."
—Flute Talk"...fast-paced and full of pulsating energy..."
—San Francisco Classical Voice
"The most striking work on the program...was Jennifer Higdon's 'String Poetic'."
— New York Times"Higdon's 'String Poetic'... is a five-movement suite marked by rhetorical clarity and dexterous interplay between the two instruments... But where Higdon's spirits run high, the effects are crisp and venturesome. In the matched pair of outer movements, piano notes on muted strings play chase-me-Charlie with violin pizzicatos; another movement, 'Maze Mechanical'... is still wittier and more breathless."
— San Francisco Chronicle"Her new violin sonata, 'String Poetic,' ...means to be absorbing for performers; desirable for audiences who think anything contemporary is abrasive; and useful, with most of the five movements so self-contained they can be played out of context, whether for encores or curtain raisers. The music's solidity and inspiration are on such a high level as to eclipse established works that also were in the program..."
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
"The finest work [of the concert] came later in the form of Jennifer Higdon's 'Voices.' The three movements of 'Voices' evoke numerous images, each abounding in vital or poetic meaning. 'Blitz' sounds like its title - rhythmically driven and spunky, a whirlwind of converging figures - and sweeps the players through a compelling multitude of string techniques. The atmosphere turns haunting in 'Soft Enlacing,' whose otherworldly harmonics, tremolo effects and blistering outbursts take the activity to a mystical sphere. 'Grace' find the quartet assuming an even more impassioned character. The textures are warmly shaded until moments of rhythmic anxiety intrude and then subside. Higdon, a faculty member at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, proves in 'Voices' that she is a composer with a powerful command of creative resources. The work is communicative and deeply moving, as well as a splendid challenge for an audacious young ensemble."
—The Cleveland Plain Dealer"Jennifer Higdon's 'Voices' is without doubt the most challenging and intriguing work of the entire collection ... highly virtuosic ... rhythmically exciting!"
— Review of the CD An American Sampler in ComposerUSA"'Voices' shows a fine sense of counterpoint, and the manner in which this young composer uses her forces to convey emotion is considerable. The piece opens savagely, energy bristling on a collision of closely clustered notes. Tremolos ensue and the strings, their entrances staggered seconds apart, race before jousting with some attractive themes. Higdon's method of composition lends tension and increases power."
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
"...the inventive beauty of her four-movement paean to the changing seasons in Philadelphia's Wissahickon Park clearly demonstrates a major talent."
—The Chicago Sun-Times"Higdon appears to be the rare composer able to write pieces that you can take to your heart, and this is one. Her dazzling blizzard of sounds makes the Vivaldi warhorse, 'Four Seasons,' sound quaint. Yet ultimately the piece succeeds because of what's behind the instrumental color. Within its modular construction, 'wissahickon poeTrees' hovers relatively free of tonal gravity by means of musical pointillism, chords that cunningly refuse to imply what's next and moments of meditative stasis. These all conspire to project a sense that the music knows where it's going but isn't going to tell you. Charm and surprise run high, but without courting obscurity; the audience rightly seemed to adore the result."
—The Philadelphia Inquirer"The music ['wissahickon poeTrees'] bursts with energy to guide listeners through its evocative narrative. Meant to evoke natural settings, this music's coherent form and shifting timbres gave it extra strength."
—The Philadelphia Inquirer"Higdon has combined her skills in writing for both strings and winds into an exquisite whole ['wissahickon poeTrees'] for small ensemble."
—Penn Sounds (Philadelphia, PA)
"...an energetic and tightly focused work that uses string instruments in percussive and unorthodox ways. It's sophisticated writing and playing of the first order."
—The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, CA)"Jennifer Higdon's 'Zaka' is a fantastic sprint full of irrestible Stravinskian energy and rhythmic drive."
—MusicWeb International"Higdon's music burst out of the gate, all smiles. Pianist Lisa Kaplan sounded the first notes inside the piano, and the race was on, the flute whooshing, percussion leading with rhythmic twists and turns that never were predictable. The sudden lyrical middle section, full of shifting, light sonorities, provided breathing room before the ensemble sprinted to the end."
—The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA)"'Zaka' also showed emotional depths that the title did not convey; shadowy expanses touched with impressive lyricism and strands of melody that ultimately set this piece in perfect balance."
—The Journal News (Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam Counties in New York)"... [T]he first cut [of eighth blackbird's recording Strange Imaginary Animals is] Jennifer Higdon's 'Zaka.' A jolting opening with low piano notes will topple you and tie you to the listening post. The acrobatic melodies leap past with abandon and their speed is dazzling."
— Audiophile Audition
"'ZONES,' the last piece on the program, composed by Jennifer Higdon for percussion ensemble and audio tape, was one of the strongest of the evening. The work's title refers to Vietnam war zones as well as various reactions of the mind and emotions to war. In terms of music, 'ZONES' transmutes the Vietnam experience into something we can contemplate freed both of romanticizing and cynicism. It constitutes one of the best new works for percussion known to me."
—Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo/Cedar Falls, IA)"Apprehension and an undulating fearfulness circle about 'Zones,' whose timpani rolls occasionally suggest the infamous helicopter scene in 'Apocalypse Now.' Without that soundtrack's slick manipulations or otherwise novel techniques, Higdon has created a moving work, whose approximately 20 minutes convey strong emotions steered by skill. It made a vivid impression on the audience...."
—The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA)