REVIEWS OF ORCHESTRAL WORKS (listed alphabetically)
"The recent orchestral works of the popular Philadelphia composer Jennifer Higdon are certainly primarily tonal, as well as imaginative, richly orchestrated and accessible, which presumably explains why 'blue cathedral' is one of the most frequently performed new works in the United States."
—New York Times"Yet it was impossible for this listener to stay seated after the orchestra's performance of contemporary composer Jennifer Higdon's "Blue Cathedral," which debuted in 2000. Amazing and undeniable is that the evening's shortest composition by far at 15 minutes, if that, leaves such a long-lasting impression."
— Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (Lubbock, TX)"...Higdon (b.1962) composed a short 13-minute journey that fascinates and inspires, in a mid-20th century American style."
— The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)"'blue cathedral' produced an otherwordly atmosphere of floating sound, yet the work never seemed directionless. The work opened with very soft bell-like sounds and quiet solos beautifully played... As the work gained intensity many of the orchestra principal players also joined with impressive solos. At the height of wave of sound, the celestial quiet of the beginning returned... The work was wonderfully effective besides being friendly to the ear."
—The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)"'blue cathedral' is a potent experience, awash in facile orchestrations and an engaging sense of journey."
— The Philadelphia Inquirer"'blue cathedral' illustrated that new music needn't be forbidding or off-putting... If this work is indicative of Higdon's compositional achievements, it certainly whets the appetite to hear more."
—The Oklahoman"Higdon's piece [blue cathedral] reveals why she is so hot on the composition circuit these days. Her 10-minute narrative abounds in delicate and rapturous radiance."
—The Plain Dealer
"The first [movement], 'SkyLine,' harks back to similar urban soundscapes by Aaron Copland, William Schuman and Samuel Barber, but carries its own churning energy. The second, 'river sings a song to trees', is particular original; fluttering, shimmering sounds gradually give way to several haunting, primal-sounding themes building to a well-developed climax. Some woodwind chorales evoke Barber, but this piece, at the very least, should have an active life of its own after these initial premieres."
—The Washington Post"'SkyLine' is a lively, inventive concert opener by Jennifer Higdon... she really knows how to write idiomatically for a large orchestra-to make the instruments really sound. 'SkyLine' has a strong rhythmic propulsion, witty orchestral effects, and a refreshing sense of vigor and optimism. Spano gave a dynamic, beautifully detailed reading to this masterful vignette."
—Coral Gables Gazette (Coral Gables, FL)"...this work ['SkyLine'] has a hard finish, driving rhythms and minimal melody…is effective nonetheless."
—Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Sarasota, FL)"The first movement [of 'City Scape'], 'SkyLine,' bolts from the gate and moves forward with jaunty, propulsive optimism. Even when the mood grows calm, there's a sense of motion, an unstoppable pulse - an anticipation that something grand is about to happen. Throughout the movement, percussion is almost always the most prominent section - not to create exotic sounds but to accent, to underline, to magnify the moment. The movement ends with cresting excitement. And it's all done without gloom or wink-wink irony. Higdon is, like, totally over the postmodern experience.
"[In the second movement,] the mood grows somber yet more plaintive and plain-spoken than 'deep'. No, this is innocent, almost childlike expression, without wisdom but unburdended by bitter world-weariness. Simple. Direct. There are also Aaron Copland-style windswept, open harmonies - identifiable Americana... Higdon's expressive force is sincere, comforting and quite disarming.
"The rondo finale [is] ... forward-propelled and jumpy, with nifty interludes of all-percussion, or that sound like neo-classical Stravinsky. A fugue-like ending takes the symphony to a cheery climax."
—Atlanta Journal-Constitution"Both the [Concerto for Orchestra] and City Scape - Higdon's three-panel portrait of Atlanta - are expansive yet tautly constructed. Every climax is well-placed, and she seems to know exactly when the ear requires novelty or comfort. This is particularly evident in 'river sings a song to trees', the 17-minute central movement of City Scape. A kind of urbane/pastoral tone poem, its atmosphere is essentially lyrical, but the composer progressively ratchets up the tension to create a surprisingly rugged emotional landscape. The more concise outer movements are exuberant and spiky, in the manner of the concerto's finale. All in all, it's a picture of the city that's surprisingly gritty (and mercifully short on Southern charm). Again, the performance is vividly characterised. Kudos to Telarc for giving us this impressive sample of an extraordinarily gifted composer."
—Grammophone (review of recording of City Scape and
Concerto for Orchestra by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Telarc 80620)
Concerto for Orchestra
"When one sees the title Concerto for Orchestra, most people immediately associate it with Bartók. Well, move over Bela, you're going to have some competition from now on, because Jennifer Higdon has usurped your title and may surpass even you."
—Classical Voice of North Carolina"It is rare to witness a big new orchestral piece being acclaimed as Jennifer Higdon's 'Concerto for Orchestra' was cheered on Friday after its first British performance... The most impressive aspect is the panache with which a huge orchestra is deployed... This colourful, ever-changing intrumental panoply is doubtless one reason why the work makes an instant impression... Higdon's work is traditionally rooted yet imbued with integrity, freshness and a desire to entertain. A promising mixture. More, please."
—The Times (London, United Kingdom)"After decades in which writing orchestral music to please was frowned upon, along comes Jennifer Higdon's 'Concerto for Orchestra', with enough persuasive arguments to give populism a good name. This was its UK premiere... and a fine impression it made thanks to Higdon's tingling sonorities, superb technical confidence and bright, blazing energy."
—Financial Times (London, United Kingdom)"HIGDON, LANG LEAVE KENNEDY CENTER MARK" [headline]
"Two powerhouses swept through the Kennedy Center Concert Hall Thursday night-composer Jennifer Higdon and pianist Lang Lang, the featured attractions on this week's National Symphony program. Each left a long-lasting impression.
"Higdon's 'Concerto for Orchestra' is a five-movement score that easily stakes a claim as one of the most inventive and substantive additions to American music in years... the array of sound colors never ceases to grab the ear, while the brilliant working-out of ideas never ceases to impress.
"Stylistically, the Philadelphia-based Higdon comes down firmly on the side of tonalists, but she also knows her way around a spiky dissonance. Reminders of many a 20th-century composer may float to the surface of the concerto from time to time, but the net effect of her writing is decidedly original."
—The Baltimore Sun"This [Concerto for Orchestra] is a substantial and often exciting 35-minute piece in five movements that calls to mind, in passing, the music of Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Olivier Messiaen and Steve Reich without really sounding like any of them. The concerto maintains close ties to the tonal center-there are dissonances aplenty but they seem decorative, rather than the main lingo of the piece-yet it is distinctly modern in its sensibility. The fourth movement, scored for percussion alone, ha some of the luminous mystery that is so winning in Carl Orff's 'Musica Poetica,' and the finale concludes with one of those propulsive, brashly energetic ticktocks that seem designed to impel listeners to their feet.
"Higdon is a savvy, sensitive composer with a keen ear, an innate sense of form and a generous dash of pure esprit at her disposal. Her concerto kept a listener's attention throughout."
—The Washington Post"'CONCERTO FOR ORCHESTRA' DEBUT SHIMMERS" [headline]
"[Jennifer Higdon's] Concerto for Orchestra has shamelessly ecstatic climaxes, scintillating interplay among instruments, and an orchestration that delivers wave after heart-stopping wave of intoxicating color.... While traditional symphonic pieces represent a circular journey, dropping you near where you started, Higdon's concerto never retraces its steps, going further and further afield beyond places where most ears have previously traveled. Written in five movements, the concerto begins with a hectic, purely orchestral curtain-raiser before heading into thickets of pizzicato strings and continuing with a series of cat-and-mouse duets among the oboes, flutes and bassoon. The fourth movement for only percussion and harp eventually does away with melody completely, inhabiting [a] celestial world of pure, often haunting color."
—The Philadelphia Inquirer"Echoes of Barber as well as Copland were also present in the music of Jennifer Higdon, whose swaggering five-movement Concerto for Orchestra spoke with a certain midcentury populist flare. Different movements highlighted each of the various sections of the orchestra, including an inventive, vaguely Eastern-sounding interlude for solo percussion. Ms. Higdon writes with confidence, and in this piece she dangerously courts bombast without actually crossing the line."
—The New York Times"In Higdon's Concerto for Orchestra... she seems to have found her own symphonic voice. Her language is still conservative and tonal, and her models are apparent, from Ravel and Bartok to Bernstein.
"But the sweepingly urgent rocket ride of the opening movement is astonishing. She can shift focus in an instant, from gargantuan wave to fragrant flower of sound, and never loses the listener. A pizzacato'd second movement and nifty percussion-only fourth movement shows mastery of rare order. With her Concerto for Orchestra, Higdon has catapulted herself over the great horde of ambitious young composers. At 41, she's become one of America's elite. Everyone will want a piece of her."
"The concerto... wonderfully creates the illusion of a free-wheeling jam in front of the orchestra. Yet, with the exception of the cadenza, it is all Higdon... Gorgeous music, played tenderly by all and crafted well by Slatkin..."
— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette"For those still attempting to define what American music is, they need look no further. Concerto 4-3 conveys an extreme energy that complements the music’s excitement."
— IAWM Journal"She finds ingenious ways to integrate violinists Zachary DePue and Nicholas Kendall, and double bassist Ranaan Meyer with the orchestra while allowing their personalities to sharpen and color the musical dialogue... The large audience awarded the performers and the composer a roaring ovation."
—Chicago Tribune"The concerto... wonderfully creates the illusion of a free-wheeling jam in front of the orchestra. Yet, with the exception of the cadenza, it is all Higdon... Gorgeous music, played tenderly by all and crafted well by Slatkin."
"Higdon's Walt Whitman setting in her piece 'Dooryard Bloom' for baritone and orchestra is her freshest and most consistently inventive work yet."
— The Philadelphia Inquirer"This is an impressive work, often affecting, and sounds like a labour of love for the composer."
— International Record Review"The musical language ranges from a soothing, clear-eyed Americana (alluding perhaps to Copland's Lincoln Portrait) to more ambiguous tonal wanderings and misty atmospherics that mirror the shifting moods of the text. It's an engaging work..."
—Fanfare"For a new work to share a program with the Ninth [Symphony of Beethoven] and not be overwhelmed by it takes some doing: even works by Bach, in that context, have been made into also-rans... But her 24-minute setting for baritone and orchestra held its own, with sections of it re-surfacing in memory well after the concert ended..."
—The New York Times"Dooryard Bloom... is among the composer's most intimate and searching works to date... [It] evokes Copland at the start but soon settles into a darker, sometimes chilling examination of death, life and the hereafter."
—Atlanta Journal Constitution
"Serving as an ideal kickoff was a suitably kinetic version of 'Fanfare Ritmico' by Jennifer Higdon, a hot composer of the moment... Surging, clipped passages punctuate, intersect and overlap each other in this five-minute work, which, as its title suggests, is infused with a propulsive rhythmic drive fueled by the piano and an array of drums."
—Denver Post"Fanfare Ritmico... full of percussive boldness and ingenious rhythmic interplay."
—The New York Times"['Fanfare Ritmico'] drew the most enthusiastic applause of the afternoon and demonstrated just how unproblematic and how uneventful it has become to have a good, independent selection by a woman nestled in among three male heavyweights (Copland, Antheil, and Sessions)."
—New Music Connoisseur"Friday [July] the 13th  proved lucky for young American composer Jennifer Higdon, whose lively 'Fanfare Ritmico' received a vigorous performances by the Cleveland Orchestra that night at the Blossom Music Center. Conducted by Kay George Roberts, 'Fanfare Ritmico' transcended the form implied by its title and ws revealed as virtually a pocket concerto for orchestra, replete with colorful and tricky passage work for ensemble and first-deskers alike. 'Fanfare's' post-modern tonal idiom connected well with the audience. Written in 1999, Higdon's driving toccata tips its hat to the middle-of-the-road modernism of Stravinsky and Lutoslawski, but it never strays far from the sound that identifies it as American."
—The Cleveland Plain Dealer
"..Jennifer Higdon's 'Loco' made for a gleaming and rambunctious curtain-raiser, and Miguel Harth-Bedoya's conducting deftly underlined the piece's rhythmic flair."
—The Boston Globe
"[Maestro Larry] Rachleff opened the evening with a brief but brilliant fanfare by Philadelphia Orchestra resident composer Jennifer Higdon...It's a short work, probably ten minutes, but a real workout for the orchestra."
—Projo Arts Blog
"...Loco is fearsomely here and now, its rhythmic intensity as super-heated as the sparks flying from the locomotive's driving wheels. As a salute to mechanical movement, this intensely-drafted piece will take its place along side famous works by Honegger and Adams. Nothing could supply more sit-up-and-take-notice beginning for a concert experience."
— Northeast Wisconsin Music Review"'Loco' is a highly energetic and amply virtuostic. It's not so crazy as to leave the tracks and builds to a climax that delighted the audience."
—Pittsburgh Tribune-Review"The fanfare-like work filled every nook and cranny with rhythmic pulsing and walls of sound...it metaphorically captures the thrill of both being on a powerful train and watching one go by, alternating between both views (complete with wonderful Doppler effect brass calls)."
—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette"Evoking both a hurtling locomotive and crazy momentum, 'Loco' was full of vivid detail."
—The Chicago Sun-Times
"The concert ended with 'Machine' ... one long, loud, freight-train crescendo with hellishly snapping winds and jumping-bean rhythms, and it sweeps relentlessly forward for just under three minutes, then stops on a dime. For sheer unpretentious fun it was just the ticket."
—The Washington Post
"HIGDON'S NEW OBOE CONCERTO PRODUCES STANDING OVATION" [headline]
"[Higdon's] Oboe Concerto shares the shimmering beauty and rhythmic playfulness of many of her other works. The concerto, in fact, seems infused with the beauty of its solo instrument. Higdon seems to address that quality. She opens and closes the work with a sustained note in the oboe’s middle register. It’s a striking opening, as if to say just a single note on this instrument can enchant — and it does."
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
On a Wire
"[On a Wire] is a brilliant soundscape: fluent and fast-paced, brimming with individual voices and rhythmic variation."
—The Mercury News
"The program included “On a Wire”, Jennifer Higdon’s exuberantly beautiful and inventive group concerto which left the audience exhilarated and tickled…sunny, imaginative, endlessly surprising…It’s both a resourceful response to a vexing logistical problem and an eloquent statement in its own right.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“…Jennifer Higdon’s On a Wire, written for the sextet named eighth blackbird, received a nearly unanimous standing ovation. Here the combination of Higdon’s incessant invention and eighth blackbird’s skill at extended instrumental technique created an atmosphere of complete engagement."
—San Francisco Classical Voice
On the Death of the Righteous
“Higdon faced a huge problem: How to compete with Verdi? Her solution was studied, but also (probably) joyfully indulgent…In a sense she did not compete, but found in John Donne’s serene musing on death the basis for another mood, another kind of music. That was an impressive achievement, for her music stayed in the ear, even after Verdi’s titanic immersion in emotion and color.”
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
"'Holy mackerel!' is not a phrase normally associated with the concert hall, but it was one of many such spontaneous expressions... The prolonged, genuine ovation proved that contemporary music need not be intimidating or off-putting. Higdon's 2005 composition is full of joyous music making, a wondrous world of sounds and colors, thrilling in its epic sections and mesmerizing in intimate moments."
—The News & Observer"[Higdon's] Percussion Concerto is a significant contribution to new music."
— Nuvo Weekly (Indianapolis, IN)"Higdon... now offers a concerto that is both a technical showcase for the percussion soloist and intriguing to listeners for its dramatic scene-setting, its textural combinations and its dialogs."
— The Indianapolis Star"Ms. Higdon aims to please in her colorful, propulsive and unabashedly accessible 25-minute concerto. The performance elicited a cheering ovation for the extraordinary percussion soloist, Colin Currie, and for the composer."
—The New York Times"The concerto is like a machine whose gears and pistons are its most entrancing qualities. But the oft-awarded, Grammy-nominated Higdon isn't the sort to write a piece that's nothing but pounding. The slow movement had wave after wave of ecstatic, intense color, with sound shapes created by bowing cymbals. Broad, Coplandesque melodies commanded the ear, though everything around them went in unexpected directions."
—The Philadelphia Inquirer"The Philadelphia Orchestra gave the New York premiere of a new percussion concerto by the swashbuckling composer Jennifer Higdon, and when it was over the audience jumped and thundered, which was precisely the point. You might think that all composers crave that kind of enthusiasm, but Higdon's sparking, high-wire score is precisely calibrated to elicit shouts.... It's why this grand display of noise took place within a classical, familiar framework and why the orchestra galloped towards its final burst of D-major with Beethovenian vigor. Higdon knows with an impresario's certainty how to let an audience have fun."
— Newsday"Higdon... has an astounding ability to blend thoughtful, intensely colorful melodies - American melodies in the shadow of Copland - with blasting, show effects. The performance solicits a roar."
—The Pioneer Press
"If there were such a title as 'The People's Composer' in this country, Jennifer Higdon would be on the short list for receiving it. She is a composer in love with composing. And her new Piano Concerto, given its premiere by the National Symphony Orchestra...exudes enthusiasm in every one of the 19,000-plus notes of the solo part and who knows how many orchestral ones."
— The Baltimore Sun
"Philadelphia-based composer Jennifer Higdon has been a hot commodity on the classical circuit in recent years, scoring a bucket load of commissions from ensembles and artists alike. They're all eager to perform new music. Not the screechy, soulless, atonal stuff that used to send audiences fleeing from the concert hall scrambling for a cross and a garland of garlic. But music that challenges the artist and pleased today's audience with a contemporary yet accessible edginess. And Ms. Higdon delivers."
— The Washington Times
Soprano Sax Concerto
"The concert's highlight concluded its first half: Jennifer Higdon's Soprano Sax Concerto (2005-2006). This was a rewrite of her 2005 Oboe Concerto (which I have not heard), and it was superbly realized by soloist Timothy McAllister.
"The single-movement concerto consisted of long stretches of ever-evolving melisma, with phrases cleverly imitated by other solo instruments in a way that seemed to weave a tapestry to the glory of melody. This work, and perhaps the oboe concerto as well, is a significant testament to beauty."
— San Francisco Classical Voice"It was Higdon's concerto that offered the most sublime musical moments on the program... It's scored for [soprano] sax and is an extremely lyrical piece whose ideas are clear and free of musical meandering... The work was played with warmth and agility by saxophonist Timothy McAllister, and Higdon smartly capitalized on the power of the [soprano] sax as counterpoint to a small orchestra. What resulted was a tasty balance, with an almost pastoral feel to the work."
The Singing Rooms
“It stands among Higdon's best."
— The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Tonal and even generally quite consonant, her music is nevertheless harmonically adventurous and punctuated with moments of heart-stopping grandeur and is absolutely brilliant.”
— CD Hot List
“The emotional spectrum is almost staggering—from pastoral to cataclysmic—the rhythmical range from reticient to undulating. The composition, as well as the sound from the orchestra, chorus and violin are well balanced and seamlessly interwoven, and complement the rhythm and spirit of Minahan’s poems.”
"Higdon, who teaches composition at Curtis, produces four or five commissions a year; the viola concerto is the work of a composer who is completely at home in her own idiom. She has internalized an amalgam of jazz, new-age, Americana and classical, avoided the ruminating of the minimalists, and opted for contrast over evolution."
—The Washington Post
"...Higdon's piece was unstoppable. Not as imposing as her Pulitzer Prize-winning Violin Concerto, this concerto bypasses her typical zeal for drawing new sounds from standard instruments. No frosting on this cake. But the depth of emotion in the first movement's songlike lyricism wasn't the only evidence of a mature composer at work. Subtle construction elements kept that lyricism aloft so artfully you didn't want the movement to end."
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
The concerto is a significant addition to the solo literature for the instrument. Cast in three compact movements, the melodic writing plays to the instrument’s darkness of tone.
—The Miami Herald
"And the Higdon Concerto is very finely crafted indeed. The composer's trump card is her preternaturally apt orchestration, a balanced depth of sound in which even odd touches--a woozy flexatone; a nasal organlike woodwind choir--enhance the smooth sheen of the whole."
—The Boston Globe
“Ms. Higdon’s concerto is a showpiece in the classical Romantic style. Its big, exploratory opening movement is packed with quick, insistent solo lines and dialogues between the violin and either the full orchestra or individual sections or players, its lush slow movement (here in the form of a chaconne) exploits the violin’s lyrical qualities, and its finale is driven by daredevil speediness. But if it adheres to a traditional model, the work is by no means boilerplate. Ms. Higdon’s chromatic neo-Romanticism and inventive orchestration keep the piece lively and surprising.”
— The New York Times
“…the concerto itself is a knockout-a canny, evocative and exciting score that marks a major addition to the repertoire.”
“It may well be Higdon’s best work to date. It is unlike any other work for violin and orchestra I have heard.”
— Classical Net Concert Review
"Higdon seems to have absorbed and assimilated something from almost everything that exists in the violin repertoire - and yet she speaks with a fresh and confident voice of her own."
— The London Times"[Higdon's Violin Concerto's] crystalline opening, which blends violin harmonics with glockenspiel and antique cymbals, immediately tickets the ear, and the fast invention that follows - and which also dominates the finale - has something of Prokoviev's bounding energy."
— The Telegraph"[Higdon's Violin Concerto] was melodic, thoughtful, exciting, and exhilirating."
— Liverpool Daily Post"Higdon's fundamentally tonal, yet imaginatively spiced style communicates with a refreshing directness. The violin part encompasses an enormous range, technically and expressively, and the orchestral writing is no less substantial."
—Baltimore Sun"...the concerto is full of the lyricism and heroism that's an essential part of the genre... The concerto's themes run the gauntlet through tight, seesawing orchestral harmonies that continue to emerge, from piece to piece, as an increasingly characteristic aspect of Higdon's compositional voice. Few big-scale concertos have so much interplay between violin soloist and the orchestra's concertmaster..."
—The Philadelphia Inquirer"The violin concerto made a case for itself eloquently, from the moment the first movement opened with high unaccompanied notes from Hahn that evoked an old music box, soon augmented by the silvery shards of a glockenspiel... Higdon is a terrific composer; and this piece... shows her ability to tailor music to a particular soloist. Hahn played with a clean radiance that lit up the music, but Higdon wrote pretty great music for her to illuminate."
—The Washington Post