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.
Jennifer Higdon was born in Brooklyn, New York. She spent the first 10 years of her life in Atlanta, Georgia before moving to Seymour, Tennessee. Largely self-taught, she played flute in her high school's concert band and percussion in marching band, but heard little classical music before her college years. She studied flute performance at Bowling Green State University with Judith Bentley, who encouraged her to explore composition. During her time at Bowling Green, she wrote her first composition, a two-minute piece for flute and piano named Night Creatures. 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 both a Master of Arts and Doctor of Composition 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 become 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 wrote her first opera based on Charles Frazier's 1997 novel, Cold Mountain with a libretto by Gene Scheer. It was co-commissioned by The Santa Fe Opera and Opera Philadelphia and premiered in Santa Fe in 2015.
Higdon lives with her wife 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.
- Cold Mountain (world premiere). Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Nathan Gunn, Isabel Leonard, Jay Hunter Morris, Emily Fons, Robert Pomakov, The Santa Fe Opera. PENTATONE PTC 5186583 (2016)
- Schweitzer, Vivien (April 21, 2010). "Despite Anxiety and Naysayers, Composer Wins Her Pulitzer". The New York Times. Retrieved May 9, 2015.
- Berger, Kevin (March 25, 2012). "Composer Jennifer Higdon pursues friendly music". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 9, 2015.
- Nicholson, David (October 26, 2010). "Virginia Symphony presents Higdon's percussion concerto". Daily Press. Retrieved April 29, 2015.
- Christina L. Reitz, “Jennifer Higdon”, ‘ ‘ The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians’ ‘, second edition, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).
- Gambone, Philip (2010). Travels in a Gay Nation: Portraits of LGBTQ Americans. University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 164–165. ISBN 9780299236847.
- "Jennifer Higdon". Jennifer Higdon. 2013-11-11. Retrieved 2013-11-21.
- "The Santa Fe Opera Announces New Works for Forthcoming season" 10 August 2011, on santafeopera.org. Retrieved 8 April 2014
- Gambone, Travels, 163-5
- League of American Orchestras: "2007-2008 Season Orchestra Repertoire Report", accessed June 21, 2010
- Audiophile Audition: Review, accessed June 21, 2010
- Guardian: Higdon: Concerto for Orchestra, accessed June 21, 2010
- Guardian: "BBCSO/Slatkin", accessed June 21, 2010
- Classical Net: Review, accessed June 21, 2010
- Dunkle, David N. (February 2, 2010). "Philadelphia composer Jennifer Higdon scores a Grammy". The Patriot-News. Retrieved May 9, 2015.
- "Alumna wins Grammy for Percussion Concerto". Pennsylvania Gazette. February 1, 2010. Retrieved May 9, 2015.
- "The 2010 Pulitzer Prize Winners: Music", The Pulitzer Prizes, accessed November 20, 2013. With short biography and program notes on the work.
- M. Brent Williams' Jennifer Higdon's Violin Concerto- the Genesis of a 21st-century Work: , Mar. 5, 2010