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Jennifer Higdon (born December 31, 1962) is an American composer of classical music. She has received many awards including the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto and the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition for her Percussion Concerto.
Higdon was born in Brooklyn, but spent her first 10 years in Atlanta, Georgia, before moving to Tennessee. A largely self-taught flautist, she played in her high school's concert band and heard little classical music before her college years. She studied at Bowling Green State University and majored in flute performance. Of playing in the university orchestra, she has said: "Because I came to classical music very differently than most people, the newer stuff had more appeal for me than the older." While at Bowling Green she met Robert Spano, who was teaching a conducting course there and who became one of the champions of Higdon's music in the American orchestral community. Although Higdon's music has been performed by more than 150 conductors, those who have worked extensively with Higdon include Christoph Eschenbach, Marin Alsop, Leonard Slatkin, and Giancarlo Guerrero. Higdon earned an Artist's Diploma from the Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with David Loeb and taught virtuoso Hilary Hahn. She then obtained a master's degree and doctoral degree in composition from the University of Pennsylvania under the tutelage of George Crumb.
Higdon teaches composition at the Curtis Institute where she holds the Milton L. Rock Chair in Compositional Studies. She has served as Composer-in-Residence with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Fort Worth Symphony. Her musical style uses elements of traditional tonality and emphasizes interesting color combinations. Higdon has received commissions from major symphonies including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, the Atlanta Symphony, the National Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Indianapolis Symphony, and the Dallas Symphony. blue cathedral, a one-movement tone poem dealing with the death of her brother from cancer, has quickly became one of the most performed modern orchestral works by a living American composer. It has been performed by more than 400 orchestras since its premiere in 2000. Her works have been recorded on more than four dozen CDs.
Higdon is currently writing an opera based on Charles Frazier's 1997 novel, Cold Mountain. It is co-commissioned by The Santa Fe Opera and Opera Philadelphia and is scheduled to be premiered in Santa Fe in 2015. The libretto is being written by Gene Scheer. It is Higdon's first opera.
Higdon lives with her partner Cheryl Lawson in Philadelphia. They met in high school.
Many of Jennifer Higdon's pieces are considered neoromantic and tend to use octatonic scales. They display a freedom of form, intense dynamic changes and dense textures. Although Higdon's pieces are mostly tonal, some atonality is still present.
Higdon's music is popular with orchestras and audiences and the League of American Orchestras recently reported Higdon as one of the most performed living American composers. "Higdon's music is lithe and expert," wrote Robert Battey of the Washington Post. "Jennifer Higdon's vivid, attractive works have made her a hot commodity lately," wrote Steve Smith of the New York Times. "Jennifer Higdon is in my assessment one of the greatest of the newer composers," wrote Steven Ritter of Audiophile Audition. Of her Concerto for Orchestra, Richard Morrison in The Times (London) stated that "it is rare to witness a big new orchestral piece being acclaimed as Jennifer Higdon's Concerto for Orchestra was cheered on ... The most impressive aspect is the panache with which a huge orchestra is deployed ... This colourful, ever-changing instrumental 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."
Among less favorable assessments, Andrew Clements in the Guardian gave a CD of Higdon's music a minimal one-star rating. He referred to the music as "American contemporary music at its most vacuous, a noisy mishmash ... supremely forgettable". Tom Service, also in the Guardian also criticized Higdon's Concerto For Orchestra. He wrote: "The problem with Higdon's piece ... is that its flamboyant gestures ... function only as surface effects, without creating any real structural momentum." Similarly, though in a more positive review, Raymond Tuttle wrote that "even though the Concerto for Orchestra is not remarkable for its melodic content, there is so much color and brilliance in Higdon's writing ... that few listeners will notice, let alone care that the work is not very deep."
She has received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts & Letters (two awards), the Pew Fellowship in the Arts, Meet-the-Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts, and ASCAP. In addition she has received grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Higdon has been a featured composer at festivals including Grand Teton, Tanglewood, Vail, Norfolk, Winnipeg and Cabrillo.
Higdon won the annual Pulitzer Prize for Music for her Violin Concerto (Lawdon Press), which premiered February 6, 2009, in Indianapolis. The Pulitzer citation called it "a deeply engaging piece that combines flowing lyricism with dazzling virtuosity." It was commissioned jointly by the Indianapolis Symphony, Toronto Symphony, Baltimore Symphony and the Curtis Institute of Music.